So how this whole thing started—
This guy Fernando De Rojas was a law student at the University of Salamanca. The year was 1499. The story goes that he found this little scrap of a story about a handsome young man who is out hunting with his hawk and stumbles across the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. He falls to his knees and professes his eternal love for her. He says he loves her more than God and makes a big ass of himself. (Keep in mind that we are at the end of the Middle Ages, so the minute he blasphemes, we know he is in trouble.) She is appalled by his forwardness and rejects him. He is devastated.
Rojas claims that he was intrigued by this little scene and set about finishing the story. So, during a 2-week break from classes (yeah, right) he scribbled out one of the greatest literary masterpieces ever written in Spanish—“The Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea,” most often called “La Celestina.” He was 23.
Flash forward 500 years to a 23-year-old student at the University of Wyoming. My thesis advisor, Carlos Mellizo, asks, “Brad, have you given any thought to what you want to do for your thesis?” I hadn’t. He said, "I think you should do something very serious. I think you should do something with—LA CELESTINA!” He went on to describe his idea, which was to write a producible modern English stage version with a critical introduction. So I did. I wrote a modern American English play called “Shades of Green” that had a successful production in Laramie, Wyoming in 1993. After one of the performances, an audience member commented, “I loved the show, but it seems so grand—it feels like it should be an opera. Or a musical or something.” I was not amused. At first. But then I got to thinking, “If this WERE a musical, where would the songs go?” And that’s how it all started.
Shades of Green
The precursor to the Celestina Musical, Shades of Green was produced in 1993 in Laramie, Wyoming, a mere 18300 miles from where Patti LuPone was born!
Over the next 5 years I wrote some 25 songs, using some of the most iconic passages as musical inspiration, and when it was finished, we produced a series of concert readings at The Players and The Dramatist Guild in New York City. And finally, in 1999 (exactly 500 years since the original work was created) we mounted a full production at The Producers Club in Manhattan under an Off-Off-Broadway Equity Production contract. It was a great success from an artistic perspective, but when all was said and done, no big deal producers attended. And when we had completed our contracted number of performances, the show closed. And I was devastated. I had envisioned getting discovered and moving to Broadway immediately! All that work and time and investment seemed to have been for nothing. I put the show in the trunk and went about my not-so-boring life as a successful business man, traveling all over the world doing meetings for important people.
But, as she always does, Celestina started whispering to me from the trunk. The songs were in my head. And the dream was still rumbling around in my heart. I started to think about what I might change if I were to work on the show again. The music was all great. But I had used the technique of a narrator who was supposed to be a Spanish professor teaching his class about “La Celestina.” I had never loved that conceit, to be honest. So I rewrote the whole book, nixing the narrator and just telling the story through dialogue. And I added a wonderful first prologue to start the show off and give the flavor of the classic roots of the source material.
With the new, revised book completed, it was time for a test run—to see if the story worked and whether the humor would play. We did a staged concert reading in Phoenix, Arizona in 2014. It played like gang busters! Since then, I have been working with a brilliant orchestral arranger, Keith Wells, and creating more demo recordings. And most recently, I have teamed up with Joshua Vern to build a Website to help promote the show.
The next step on the road to Broadway is a good out-of-town workshop production. Ideally, I would like to engage a noteworthy celebrity actress to originate the role of Celestina. Since the character is so iconic and powerful, and the role so demanding—both musically and dramatically—it needs to be somebody fearless and fabulous. Funny and frightening. Sexy and scary. I am thinking it should be a Patti LuPone type. Just exactly like her. In every way. Patti LuPone. That is just the kind of person that should be playing Celestina.