by Photo by Sarah Berjan

The Desert Rose musical tells the story of a young woman who follows her heart into a predatory industry and is met with pressure to lose her Chicana identity through assimilation. It is through the rediscovery of family, ancestral pride, and love that overcomes all. 

San Diego caught it’s first glimpse of the work-in-progress musical in a private showing on Dec.13, at the Lyceum Theatre. Actor-musician Federico Lanuza and co-creator, dance artist/educator Cynthia Morales conceived of the idea 36 years ago, inspired by their work in education with migrant children and families, which they describe as a cumulation of their life experiences. 

Federico spent his childhood in Tijuana and Cynthia was a migrant field worker in her late teens. The couple met in their youth during a dance production, but found each other anew in their time at the University of California in Los Angeles. The Desert Rose was conceived in 1985 as the couple created their own music during southbound trips for San Diego to visit family in a car void of a stereo.  

After marriage, careers in education and preforming arts, their musical project was put on the back burner. Over the years, Federico wrote musicals for regional theaters throughout southern California, including the San Diego Repertory Theatre and the La Jolla Playhouse, and the Old Globe Theater.

Their daughter Celeste Lanuza decided to produce and work on the musical in 2019. She plays the lead role of Rosalinda, a 18 year-old daughter of Mexican migrant workers who becomes an international pop star after moving to Los Angeles, but loses her identity through assimilation for the sake of her image and her desire to be accepted. 

According to Celeste, Rosalinda combats the music industry that homogenizes and hypersexualizes women, while attempting to cling onto her identity and values as a Chicana. Rosalinda finds herself after trials and tribulations through family,love, and reigniting pride of her Mexican heritage and ancestors.

“We need to see this female perspective. We need to see the female narrative These are real and constant constructs, especially for  women of color,” Celeste Lanuza said. 

Needless to say, Celeste wore many hats as the Co-writer, Co-director, Co-Musical director, choreographer and actress for the Desert Rose. She worked to modernize the script while maintaining the original version.

“It’s important to tell the Mexican American/Chicano culture because it’s ever been told in the performing arts. You see Caribbean Latino stories being told. We are so multifaceted and beyond these tropes and conventions that society has chosen in the ways we represent ourselves,”Celeste Lanuza said.

Celeste grew up in San Diego, and is an actor, dancer, choreographer, singer, teacher and writer. She was the lead actress in a recent San Diego Repertory Theatre production of Octavio Solis’s “Mother Road”, and has performed locally and internationally in renowned theatres.

 The San Diego Repertory Theatre playwright-in-residence, Herbert Siguenza began working alongside Lanuza Morales Productions at the start of the pandemic, where he began to co-write and further develop the musical via Zoom.

“I helped craft more of a story people could follow. I wasn’t really sure what the story was about at first, but I really liked the songs. The musical is about following your heart and that is pretty clear now,” Siguenza said. 

With the Desert Rose, the Lanuza Morales Productions strives to empower women, be one of the few Latino musicals, and the first to represent Mexican culture. 

“It is really important to us that we empower women with a story, an opportunity to employ female actresses and have lead roles, and have important roles in productions on stage,” Morales said. 

The musical genres, including cumbia, blues rock, Latin jazz, reggaeton, flamenco, classical, among others. To accommodate the small stage for this private showing, much of the choreography, music, and thematic material were cut.

The goal is to have the Desert Rose be produced at an esteemed regional theatre and on Broadway. 

“The beauty of the arts is not only the product, but the journey toward that product and all of the people that you meet and encounter along the way,” Federico said.

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