This article focuses on the staging of “West Side Story,” the first production by brand-new theater company Luciérnaga Producciones in Costa Rica and the acting trajectory of the star of the musical as well as its producer, Silvia Baltodano, who plays Maria. Baltodano is the main founder of Luciérnaga.
[. . .] It is Tuesday afternoon, and this is the fifth hour of rehearsal. The performers have just had lunch, and they are now practicing the “mambo scene.” The scene is big and complicated, requiring elaborate choreography and superhuman energy. But the mambo only lasts a few minutes, a splinter of time in a show that usually lasts two and a half hours. This is the set of “West Side Story,” the first production by brand-new theater company Luciérnaga Producciones. The performers have just received their newly tailored costumes, the Eisenhower-era suits and dresses worn in the original production. The stage of the Melico Salazar Theater is essentially empty, but soon the designers will erect a massive set, representing the brownstone tenements of New York City.
[. . .] In the middle of the stage stands Silvia Baltodano. She plays Maria, one of the doomed lovers in “West Side Story.” She wears a white prom dress, one of the most memorable outfits in Broadway history. She leans into Miguel Mejía, the young actor who plays Tony, and they kiss cheeks. Then they begin to dance. It’s slow and sweet, like the blossoming of young love.
Baltodano is 26 years old and was born and raised in Costa Rica. Playing Maria has been a lifelong dream. And it is her desire to star in “West Side Story” that has made all this possible: She is the main founder of Luciérnaga Producciones and the producer of this show. After years of training and planning, Baltodano’s dream will finally come true, and a powerful art form – musical theater – will strike Costa Rica like lightning.
In person, Baltodano seems born to perform: She is attractive, emotive, and energetic. At any moment, she might splay jazz hands or burst into song. After spending much of her adulthood studying in the United Kingdom, Baltodano speaks English with a distinctly London accent, which can confuse people who meet her for the first time. In turns, Baltodano is warm, intense, opinionated, and freely mirthful.
Baltodano grew up near Hospital México in San José. Her father is a pediatrician and her mother is a cardiologist. When she was 15, some ambitious students at her school decided to produce “The Phantom of Opera.”
“I was the only one to audition, so I got the lead,” remembers Baltodano with a laugh. (She doesn’t mention how the show went, although one can only imagine what a gaggle of high school students came up with.)
[. . .] “I’ve always been a dancer,” she says. “But I never saw it as a career choice.” The same year she performed in the makeshift “Phantom,” she started taking voice lessons as well. Around that time, she won a trip to New York City, where she saw her first Broadway show, “Cats.” The colossal production sparked her imagination. It was love at first showstopper.
[. . .] Instead of returning to Costa Rica, Baltodano was accepted to the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, the same school that graduated Dame Judi Dench and Sir Lawrence Olivier. For three years, the renowned program rigorously trained Baltodano in acting, operatic singing, and dance. Days were long and grueling, generally lasting from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and it was rare that Baltodano had free time. But she relished her time at school, and she loved living in London. Her student visa allowed Baltodano to work as well, and she landed several acting gigs. [. . .] Baltodano came back to Costa Rica – but she would bring her hard-won education with her. [. . .]