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Carla Bordonada, winner of the Rising Star vocal competition at Rise Bar in Hell’s Kitchen. | CAROL KASSIE THEATRICAL MARKETING & PUBLIC RELATIONS
Carla Bordonada, winner of the Rising Star vocal competition at Rise Bar in Hell’s Kitchen. | CAROL KASSIE THEATRICAL MARKETING & PUBLIC RELATIONS

A protean, largely unknown talent just hit town. I am talking about Carla Bordonada, who, before a packed, cheering May 8 house, won the Rising Star vocal competition at Hell’s Kitchen’s Rise Bar. Following eight weeks of preliminaries and facing two other finalists, she triumphed, after bringing down the house with three selections: the punishing tessitura of Celine Dion’s “I Surrender,” ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” (both of them judges’ choices), and the song that I knew she would win with, her “11 o’clock number” category choice, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”

Yes, we’ve heard them all way too many times, but such is Bordonada’s fresh approach, total commitment, flawless musicality, and soaring voice, with melismas to out-Mariah Mariah, they really were like the first time you’d ever heard them.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, the sumptuously gorgeous Bordonada moved here last winter, freezing her adorable, unprepared tuchas off.

In the Noh: Latina chops triumph, Lortel inspires, Broadway rules

“I’m a no-GPS-needed Puerto Rican,” she laughed. “I think the first time I tried to sing was in front of the TV while watching professional singers do their thing. I must have been about three or four years old. I used to watch my father play Spanish guitar and sing at home as a hobby all the time. After seeing artists on TV, I guess my brain made the connection of ‘Hey! That’s what Dad does, and you can also do it wearing fancy clothes!’

“But it wasn’t until I was six that I sang in front of a group of people. I was in school singing to myself in the middle of class and my teacher got a little upset that I wasn’t paying attention, so she made me get up and ‘sing for the whole class to hear.’ I think she thought I’d refuse, but I just went for it, and I quickly felt that was my place. Capital P Place.

“Throughout elementary school and high school, I sang a lot for school special occasions. I also did a lot of musical theater. In college, while I majored in Modern Languages [French], I got my first gig as a professional singer working with a local live covers band. We performed for many US companies in hotels all around the island.

“A couple of years later, I decided to move to Miami, where I shortly met Rick Leonard, an insanely talented pianist, singer, and musical director, who had also just moved into Miami — from New York. I started singing in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale gay piano bar scene, doing pop and Broadway show tunes by audience request. Within less of a year of our partnership, we were working for Atlantis Events, performing onboard their cruise ships.”

David Noh and Carla . COURTESY: CARLA
David Noh and Carla Bordonada. | COURTESY: CARLA BORDONADA

And that’s where I come into her story: on my first fabulous gay cruise, from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires, I found myself returning night after night to the decidedly non-cheesy — for once — piano bar, because of Leonard’s wonderful playing and Bordonada belting out an amazing range of music (her “Besame Mucho” obsessed me).

“The gay cruises! Actually, it’s the only way to cruise, as far as I’m concerned. The audiences are amazing and so loyal! The entertainment overall is top drawer, so even on nights when I wasn’t working, I had the best time watching true pros like Alec Mapa, Miss Richfield 1981, Lindsey Alley, Nate Buccieri, Brian Nash… The experience also expanded my following to other states other than Florida, which I am very grateful for. I’ve made great friends along the way.”

Bordonada’s a big fan of Miami, too: “I have a loving and loyal fanbase. Besides my duo act with Rick, I had the opportunity to do my one-woman cabaret show under David Sexton’s direction, as well as working in professional musical theater productions, guided by amazing Florida talent like Patrick Fitzwater, Matthew Korinko, and Emmanuel Schvartzman. But I felt like this year was the Year of New Yawk! So I moved in February, I am working on building my acting career, and who knows? Maybe I’ll land my dream role of Elphaba this year!”

The Lucille Lortel Awards were held May 1 at NYU’s Skirball Center, and the event was its usual homey, warm affair, honoring Off Broadway achievements in the name of a great woman of the theater, who helped countless theatricals, from creating the award itself to unquestioningly signing checks to keep troubled shows afloat. My favorite memory of her is at the Theater Hall of Fame Awards, the year Lauren Bacall was honored. I had just witnessed a hapless fan try to approach Bacall, only to be icily rebuffed. “Were we talking to you?,” came the husky snarl, only adding to the legend of exactly why she was dubbed “The Beast of Broadway” by her “Woman of the Year” cast. So, I could not help but find it sort of hilarious that, in the middle of her acceptance speech, the ladies room door directly behind her opened, and out hobbled an ancient but still very game and totally unabashed Lortel. The look those two tough old Jewish dames gave each other could have instantly annihilated lesser mortals.

For me, the highlight of this year’s awards was the uncannily tireless James Houghton’s magnificent acceptance speech for the Lifetime Achievement Award. To hear about his utter, fantastically selfless commitment to theater — which includes his overseeing the Juilliard drama department and opening his wondrous and welcoming Signature Theater Center, where all tickets are $25 (bravo!) — was beyond inspirational.

The line in front of Film Forum stretched practically to Seventh Avenue on April 25, for the appearance of former apple-cheeked movie star-turned-nun Dolores Hart. Now the Reverend Mother of the Abbey of Regina Laudis Benedictine monastery in Connecticut, which she joined in 1963, turning her back on Hollywood, she was an absolute, funny, intelligent, and — yes — inspirational delight, wearing a very traditional habit, truly sensible black sneakers and a jaunty beret over her wimple. She’s a salty sister, too, her conversation peppered with unexpected terms like “bitch” (as in she didn’t want to be one to Montgomery Clift, after they had shot 50 takes of a simple moment in “Lonelyhearts” during his troubled, post-accident period) and “kick him in the ass!”

Hart had books to sell, her memoir “The Ear of the Heart,” and the Oscar-nominated documentary about her, “God is the Greater Elvis” — she co-starred with the King twice — was shown. Her monastery looks like a marvelously serene, lost-in-time environ, but it was both instructive and amusing to see nuns enjoying a lunch of tacos as well as Godiva chocolates and the Hollywood Reporter in Reverend Mother’s office. And moving, indeed, was her lifelong relationship with the fiancé she jilted to join the order, Donald John Robinson, who remained deeply in love with her, visiting her once a year until his death in 2011.

Josh Segarra and Ana Villafañe in Ale “On Your Feet. | MATTHEW MURPHY
Josh Segarra and Ana Villafañe in Ale “On Your Feet. | MATTHEW MURPHY

The Broadway season wrapped, and I can happily say it was damn good! Lyricist Sheldon Harnick proved himself the absolute King of the Great White Way, with terrific revivals of his imperishable “She Loves Me” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” starring, respectively, Laura Benanti and Danny Burstein, giving performances that approached the legendary — Burstein especially. Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne almost managed to efface the definitive movie memories of Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” as a most memorable pair of Tyrones.

And I finally succumbed to the talent of director Ivo van Hove, after wanting to murder him for what he did to “The Little Foxes” and “A View from the Bridge,” with his ferociously searing, emotionally devastating “The Crucible.” Sophie Okonedo is perhaps the most miraculously human actress I have ever seen. Ben Wishaw — an actor I’d once dismissed, especially after his Old Vic “Hamlet,” as being too fey for weighty roles — after this and the film, “Suffragette,” has miraculously transformed himself into tower of masculine strength, with gravitas-laden heroic proportions. And Tavi Gevinson, whom I considered a precocious annoyance, for her blog-created stardom (grrr, I’m an old curmudgeon from the print wars), completely redeems herself after her inadequate turn in “This is Our Youth.” She literally throws herself into the role of the one Salem lass who dares to go against her fellow little bitch witch accusers and, during an intense interrogation scene, the finest, most exquisite silver thread of drool descended from her quivering lips, a histrionic fillip that transcendently reeked not of self-indulgence, but of total emotional truth.

My personal favorite show, however, was “On Your Feet,” which, although commercially successful, scandalously received only a single Tony nomination (for Sergio Trujillo’s sizzling choreography). I saw it twice and have never seen audiences leave a show so thoroughly elated as by the dazzle — both emotional and artistic — of this superb recounting of the life and career of Gloria Estefan and her producer husband, Emilio. While Ana Vilafañe beautifully proved herself a triple threat killer as Gloria, and Andrea Burns as her tempestuous mother soloed in the single most powerfully glamorous number of the year, Josh Segarra was the star of the show for me, providing the real, success-attaining guts of the story, and doing it with a nigh-unbearable, husky, handsome, dead sexiness. I would gladly pay full price just to watch him joyously dancing to the Miami Sound Machine’s infectious rhythms, with an irresistible macho funkiness and dripping a purely Latin elan, in a way to make you wish every man in your life moved that way.

The way its savvy, heartwarming book was ignored, not only by the Tonys but also by the Drama Desk Awards (which deemed no musical book even worthy this year of being nominated, and so eliminated the category), almost smacked of a totally unseeing, inevitably “unconscious” racism. The moment when Emilio faces down a bigoted record producer, who refuses to see any Latin crossover appeal in the US, with the line, “This is the face of an American,” won cheers in the theater every night. What the fuck more do you need?

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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