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Standing in for the Queen of Salsa

August 10, 2007|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Playing the Queen of Salsa on stage is a dream come true for Xiomara Laugart, the star of the musical "Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz." But the singer doesn't want to mislead the audience.

"I am not Celia. I don't sing like Celia," said Laugart, a former member of funk band Yerba Buena, who is making her stage debut in the off-Broadway production.

Like Cruz, Laugart is Cuban and a singer. But Cruz "is the Queen of Salsa. I am the queen of my house," Laugart said.

"Imagine! She is the pioneer of the music and the representation of black, Latina and Cuban women. How can you represent that? That's a tremendous challenge, a tremendous responsibility," the exuberant 46-year-old singer told reporters.

"People will come to remember Celia. . . . What we are doing is recounting her life in the most respectful way."

The musical, opening Sept. 12 at New World Stages, will be directed by Jaime Azpilicueta. Modesto Lacen, 30, known for his work in Puerto Rican film, TV and theater, will portray Cruz's husband, Pedro Knight, an accomplished trumpeter who died at age 85 in February.

Through 30 songs once performed by the legendary singer, the musical covers Cruz's birth in Santo Suarez, Cuba, in 1925, to her death in 2003 in New Jersey at age 77.

In the 1950s, Cruz became famous with the legendary Afro-Cuban group La Sonora Matancera. She left Cuba after its 1959 revolution for the United States in 1960 and never went back.

With her powerful voice and flamboyant shows, Cruz helped bring salsa to a broad audience.

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