Make us your home page

Freefall's 'Bernarda Alba' plays off Spanish heritage


Times Performing Arts Critic

“Once upon another time. In a little town in Spain there lived a woman and her five daughters."

So begins Bernarda Alba, the musical by Michael John LaChiusa (words and music) that opens Friday at Freefall Theatre. Based on a play by Federico Garcia Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba, it is set in rural Spain in the 1930s and revolves around a matriarch who, after the death of her husband, imposes a long period of mourning on her daughters. They rebel against the cloistered, hothouse atmosphere.

Starring in the title role, Kate Young heads an all-woman cast of 10, which represents a first for artistic director Eric Davis. "I have done plays that have a larger proportion of women to men but never an all-female cast," Davis said. "There is actually a lot of masculinity in the story as well. A powerful sexuality is what it is all about. So I think it's an interesting balance to have this all-female cast and the male director."

In a way, Davis is going back to Freefall's origins. The company made its acclaimed debut in 2008 with The Wild Party, a LaChiusa musical with a jazz theme that was staged by Davis at the Studio@620.

In Bernarda Alba, the score is influenced by flamenco singing and dancing. Davis thinks that is a good fit for the Tampa Bay area, with its Spanish heritage.

"It's thrilling and so Spanish and so about the world of this play," he said. "All sorts of things are built into the score that are from flamenco. It's an incredible leap outside the comfort zone of traditional musical theater."

Carolina Esparza, a longtime flamenco performer in Tampa, is the production's choreographer.

Davis finds another local peg in the similar aesthetics of Lorca and Salvador Dalí, hoping to draw fans of the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg to the play. "Lorca was concerned, as Dalí was, with pushing ideas not only in art but in politics and society," he said. "Visually, in the set, I've tried to inform our production by this connection between Lorca and Dalí. There is some surrealist imagery in the piece."

LaChiusa has been a prolific creator of musicals, most recently with Giant, based on the Edna Ferber novel. His score for Bernarda Alba employs a small orchestra with keyboard, percussion, reeds, guitar and cello, led by Michael Raabe.

"I think he's one of the most interesting voices in contemporary musical theater," Davis said. "He writes incredibly inspiring and actable music. There's this concept in Spanish art and flamenco called duende, and I think LaChiusa has that."

Duende is a Spanish word that refers to "soul" — art and music that are particularly emotional.

"Bringing it to this piece gives us a running start in the production with this music full of intense emotion," Davis said.

LaChiusa shows can be esoteric, but Davis thinks the Freefall audience is ready for Bernarda Alba.

"I think when people leave the theater they will have a couple of reactions," he said. "First of all, I think they will feel like the play has been done to them. It's one of these plays that is just a runaway train of intensity. So I think they will feel like the play has happened to them, which is what I feel like theater should always be trying to do. And they will also feel like they have experienced something unique."

John Fleming can be reached at or (727) 893-8716.

If you go

Bernarda Alba

With words and music by Michael John LaChiusa, the musical opens Friday and runs through April 7 at Freefall Theatre, St. Petersburg. $39, $46, with $22 rush tickets available a half-hour before curtain for students, teachers, Equity members. (727) 498-5205;

Freefall's new season

Freefall Theatre has announced its 2013-14 schedule, which includes Fiddler on the Roof, the season-opening musical in September, and Larry Kramer's autobiographical play on the AIDS crisis, The Normal Heart. Here's the lineup.

Sept. 20-Nov. 3: Fiddler on the Roof by Jerry Bock (music), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Joseph Stein (book)

Nov. 28-Dec. 24: A Christmas Carol by Bruce Greer (music) and Keith Ferguson (libretto)

Jan. 24-Feb. 16: The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer

March 14-30: TBA

April 25-May 18: The Mikado by Arthur Sullivan (music) and W.S. Gilbert (libretto)

June 13-July 6: Burnt Part Boys by Chris Miller (music), Nathan Tysen (lyrics) and Mariana Elder (book)

Aug. 1-31: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Dale Wasserman, adapted from Ken Kesey's novel

Freefall's 'Bernarda Alba' plays off Spanish heritage 03/13/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 2:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Glen Campbell's wife Kim discusses challenges, guilt caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, others face

    Life Times

    If there's one thing Kim Campbell would change about caregiving for Alzheimer's patients, it's the attitude so many of us have toward transferring a loved one from home to a long-term care facility. According to Campbell, it's often the most kind, loving decision you can make. It's not a sign of failure, but one of …

    Kim Campbell, wife of country music legend Glen Campbell, is acknowledged by those attending the free event where she shared the story of her personal journey with Alzheimer???‚??„?s disease and the struggles she faced caring for her husband on Friday (5/26/17) at the Suncoast Hospice's Empath Health Service Center in Clearwater. Empath Choices for Care, a member of Empath Health, and Arden Courts Memory Care hosted the free event where Kim shared her story to help others understand the early stages, how the disease changes lives, the challenges families face and the role of caregiver.
  2. What happened when I took my dad to a Pitbull concert

    Music & Concerts

    TAMPA — "So, you know how you like Pitbull?" I asked my dad. "We can see him."

    Selfie of Divya Kumar and Anand Kumar at Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias concert.
  3. Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador


    The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

    The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 25


    St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue's Grand Central District with more than 350 vendors, multiple stages, live music, art and food. 9 a.m., Grand Central District, 2429 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 342-0084.

    Kristen Whalen poses for a photo before the start of the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg last year. It's that time of year again, so check with us for your planning purposes. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24


    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth …

    Thousands line the streets of Central Ave. during the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg.  [Saturday, June 25, 2016] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]