This week I had the opportunity to speak with the very talented, Luis Salgado. The actor is part of the cast of “Rocky”: The Musical which recently opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater. He tells me about his experience getting the part and how it is to be the only Latino in the production.
Mariana Dussan (MD): What do you think made you stand out and get the part?
Luis Salgado (LS): For me in general, the different skills, being able to act and dance in the middle of an audition and be comfortable doing that. On top of that, I was a boxer when I was 15 years old. I did it simultaneously for two years while I was performing. It was interesting because I have a family that comes from boxing and I have a passion for boxing so I felt very comfortable and I have natural boxing skills that I developed when I was younger. But honestly, I’m not sure if that’s what got me the job. I remember that [during auditions] they threw in a last-minute choreography and for whatever reason I was living that audition and I think at that moment I got the job.
(MD): Tell us about your character in “Rocky” and how you approach him.
(LS): I play Kid Rizzio, this guy who trains in the same gym that Rocky Balboa trains in. Eventually as Rocky gets the opportunity to fight Apollo Creed, I get the chance to be a cornerman for Rocky, which is actually one of my favorite moments in the show.
“Rocky” is my first non-Latino show and I get to be the Latino actor, I’m not representing a Latino, but I chose to because I’m so proud of being the one Latino on this show. My character comes from an Italian family, however in my own individual approach to the character, I make him a Latino-Italian, a Puerto Rican-Italian.
So I’m very excited about that because right now I am outside the Latino [space] getting an opportunity to play other roles, and I get to choose to make them Latino or not.
(MD): Did you have to brush up on your boxing skills for the show?
(LS): Since December I started training. I go minimum four times a week for two hours. I recently started sparing, which means I get into the ring with my headgear and we do four to six rounds with an opponent, but in a healthy way, not power punches but more technical, the coaches give you advice. Only because I love it so much, I have gotten so deep into it. A lot of my friends [from the show] have done training prior to starting rehearsals, now they are just doing the show, but I keep going more than anything because it keeps me focused and it gives me more of an adrenaline when I’m doing the shows at night because I see the boxers everyday in the gym and I see their lives, energy and struggle [so that] helps me bring an honest raw energy to the character.
(MD): How physically demanding has the show been on your body?
(LS): Well more in the preparation. Every morning before every rehearsal – it doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, dancer, non dancer, guys, ladies – we all have to go in for an hour and do a closed circuit training – when you do exercises with no break– Everybody did that for a month a half to get our bodies ready and that was very physically challenging for a lot of people including me. I think the training that I’m doing outside of the show is more physically demanding, the boxing training and being disciplined with it, and then you add on the show so that makes it a big physical demand.
But, I had a more physical demand when I was doing “In The Heights” because it was more dance oriented so it was more physically challenging to do on a daily basis, by percentage of movement it was so much more physical. [“Rocky,”] is more emotionally demanding because the energy, passion and commitment to make this fight as real as possible.
(MD): You’re all over the final scenes of “Rocky,” how does it feel to be in the thick of things?
(LS): It’s one of the most fun opportunities I think I’ve had as an actor on Broadway. It’s so close to the audience, their eyes, their reactions, that: “Oh!” that comes when they’re seeing the technical things that happen in the show. Then the energy out of every round, we have to come in and take care of the lead and really give him water, clean him up and give him advice. I have to tell you, every night it’s real advice because these guys are making real contact and although everything is choreographed there are nights where Andy Karl (Rocky) will come out and say, hey Luis check my nose. There’s no room for error, we all have to make a perfect run every night, and when you add to that the energy that the audience brings, it [makes it] one of those exciting jobs that you don’t want to give up.
(MD): This musical should win best Set Design at the Tony’s this year. The theater transformed itself into MSG! It felt and looked like a real boxing arena. How did they manage to do that?
(LS): We have these elements like the guys carrying cameras are really video taping and so you’re getting a live feed from the fight, there’s a ring and that ring lives in the middle of the audience making it a round venue arena. Then you have huge Madison Square Garden screens projecting everything live.
(MD): What makes this show different than any other Broadway show?
(LS): One of the tweets I read every week is, wow this might be the only Broadway show where the line to the bathroom for the men is longer than the line for the women. We’re bringing a new audience potential to the Winter Garden. I’ve seen in the time I’ve been performing, trucker-type guys standing up and cheering and crying at the end. This is a complete new event in theater.
(MD): What do you do with Viva Broadway and Do you have any upcoming projects with the organization?
(LS): I’m part of the advisory board and we try to bring Broadway closer to the Latino audience.
I have an organization called R.Evolucion Latina, a non-profit organization that empowers our community through the arts. I’m also working on Salgado Productions and I have new scripts being thrown at me, one of them is called “Valencia.” About a hospital and Latinos from the Bronx who are being taken out of this place and they decide to fight against it. It’s a funny script and we’re turning it into a musical so I’m hoping that within the next years we have that up somewhere Off-Broadway.
(MD): Why should audiences go see “Rocky”?
(LS): “Rocky” is about every underdog there is. I invite everyone to see it because it’s about all of us. It’s about me being this guy from Puerto Rico that said: who I am to be brilliant, talented, gorgeous and talented – like the Marianne Williamson poem said, and which that same poem answers: who are you not to be? it’s a wonderful love story [told through] boxing.