Who cares about an old singer?

Madrid musical pays tribute to songwriting talent of Carlos Berlanga

The cast of A quién le importa pose on the stage at Madrid’s Arlequín theater.
The cast of A quién le importa pose on the stage at Madrid’s Arlequín theater. Samuel Sánchez

Nino Bravo, Mecano, Joaquín Sabina, Cómplices... Trends indicate that any successful singer or band from decades past is a good candidate to become the subject of a musical. And if the musical gets staged on Madrid's Gran Vía, all the better.

The latest addition to this growing list is the influential pop singer and songwriter Carlos Berlanga. A former member of the bands Pegamoides, Kaka de Luxe and Alaska y Dinarama, he was one of the most celebrated artists of Madrid's Movida, the 1980s countercultural movement that also produced filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar.

Berlanga - the son of famous filmmaker Luis García Berlanga (Welcome, Mr Marshall) - died in 2002 at age 42, and his legacy has since been the subject of exhibitions (he was also a painter), tribute albums and concerts. But until now, he had not followed in the footsteps of the 1980s band Mecano, whose songs form the basis of Hoy no me puedo levantar, or singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina, whose work inspired the musical Más de cien mentiras.

The son of a famous filmmaker, Carlos Berlanga died in 2002 at age 42

But Friday marked the premiere of A quién le importa (or, Who cares), a musical named after one of his best-known songs, at Teatro Arlequín. Written over the course of seven years by his screenwriter brother Jorge Berlanga, the project was put on hold in June 2011 when Jorge himself passed away at age 52, also of liver disease like Carlos. It was the determination of promoter Marcos Campos and the Berlanga family, with support from a well-known soft drink brand, that ensured the completion of the musical.

"A journey of many years ends now, but another one begins," said Campos at the musical's presentation.

A quién le importa includes around 20 songs that Carlos Berlanga wrote throughout his career for the bands he shared with the singer Alaska, for his own solo career, and for other artists - such as No pensar en ti, for Raffaella Carrá. The production incorporates passages that combine reality and fiction and feature historical characters such as Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí and Federico García Lorca.

The Berlanga seal permeates the entire production. "There are my brother Carlos's songs, of course, but also Jorge's talent - he also experienced that era [the Movida years], and his point of view is interesting," says Fernando, the third of the four siblings. "Jorge was inquisitive and sarcastic, just like my father. And all that is evident in the musical."

An oversize bust of their filmmaker father, Luis García Berlanga, presides the entrance hall at Teatro Arlequín, which has been transformed into an imitation of Rockola bar - one of the epicenters of the Movida. "Jorge's idea was to capture everything that was happening at the time through Carlos's songs," explained Fernando.

A quién le importa begins in a hospital, where Oscar, the main character - played by Jacinto Bobo - is recovering while he brings to memory more or less surrealist scenes of his own past. The characters who make an appearance include Sor Ivonne, the perverse nurse of the song Hospital, which was made popular by Alaska y los Pegamoides.

The staging is not as spectacular as that of other similar productions on the nearby Gran Vía, but Fernando Berlanga stresses that it serves to showcase the legacy of Jorge Berlanga, one of the most brilliant writers and columnists of his generation, and of Carlos Berlanga, an influential musician in the recent history of Spanish pop. "The songs are timeless, and this is the perfect format to bring them closer to the new generations," says Fernando. After this, they hope to move on to a larger theater and then embark on a nationwide tour.

A quién le importa . Until April 30 at Teatro Arlequín, Madrid. http://teatroarlequinmadrid.com


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