"I was 9 or 10 when we moved to San Diego. And then I was in classrooms where it was about half Anglo, half Mexican American kids." said Fitzhugh, whose work has been produced both on Broadway ("Grind") and off ("Herringbone," "Paper Moon," "Myths and Hymns").
Asked for more details about the show's real-life roots, Fitzhugh offered a tongue-in-cheek kicker: "I would go into more detail about that, but I'm frankly terrified of what Rush Limbaugh would say about me."
Kidding aside, the show's creative principals evince a sense of quiet confidence and mutual support derived from their shared past. Daniele was LaChiusa's mentor when he first started writing at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop in New York. Fitzhugh met the composer after hearing him perform at a BMI class — where, she admits, she was frankly jealous of his talent.
"And so I took my Salieri moment with me, back home, and thought about it for a couple of days," Fitzhugh said, laughing. "And it was really the impact of his music and his words on me was so strong that I thought, 'Oh god, Ellen, this is so unworthy, you really can't do this.' So I called him and I said something like, 'I've decided that I can either have a milk train run over you or do whatever I can to help.'"
Today Daniele and Fitzhugh call LaChiusa "our baby," and he refers to them as "my two mommys." Michael Ritchie, artistic director of Center Theatre Group, said that LaChiusa, Fitzhugh and Daniele work together so closely that it's hard to say where one's influence ends and another's begins.
"All three people in the [rehearsal] room are very cooperative, which doesn't always happen," Ritchie said. "It's much more of a conversation in how they approach the show."
Cooperation has a way of overcoming Otherness. During one rehearsal, Daniele pointed out that if you change the "l" in los otros to an "n," you get nosotros, Spanish for "us." The team hopes that hidden meaning will ring out at the end of their new work.
"I think that's what we have to try to aim for," LaChiusa said. "A nosotros moment. Because it's a tricky beat. And that's what I want to go for."
"Los Otros." Mark Taper Forum. Opens Sunday, through July 1. Tickets: $20-$65. Information: (213) 628-2772; http://www.centertheatregroup.org