GALA Hispanic Theatre makes lemonade out of lemons

Paulo Andrés Montenegro - Luis Caballero signed on to direct GALA’s “Puerto Rico . . . ¡fua!” with four weeks left in rehearsals with the cast (shown).

Hugo Medrano, the producing artistic director of GALA Hispanic Theatre, was set to direct the musical “Puerto Rico . . . ¡fua!” He’d been working on the show for six months when, with weeks to go before opening night, Medrano had to be hospitalized for a serious illness.

Medrano is on the mend but had to hand the reins of the show to somebody else: “Poor Luis had to inherit the whole thing.”

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Luis Caballero, who directed a production of “Puerto Rico . . . ¡fua!” in New York City 11 years ago, signed on to direct GALA’s production with four weeks left in rehearsals. Caballero saw the show in his native Puerto Rico when he was 14 years old. “We all know this classic in Puerto Rico,” he said.

Rebecca Medrano, executive director of GALA, said getting Caballero “was a real blessing, because he’s done the show and is thoroughly and authentically Puerto Rican.”

Hugo Medrano and Caballero communicated throughout the rehearsal process. “Hugo is a maestro,” Caballero said. “So, you always go to the maestro to talk to them. We talk and we laugh; he gives me notes, and I give him notes. It’s a collaboration . . . [that] I’m very comfortable with. I don’t like to be a dictator.”

In a lemons-to-lemonade turn of events, not only did the Medranos have “this perfect opportunity to bring in exciting new talent,” Rebecca Medrano said, but through Caballero’s involvement in “Puerto Rico . . . ¡fua!,” GALA will be home to the D.C. premiere of Caballero’s new play, “DC-7: The Roberto Clemente Story.” The musical, based on the life of Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente, is touring in Puerto Rico. Caballero will direct a production at GALA next season.

Thursday to July 1 at 3333 14th St. NW, www.galatheatre.org, 202-234-7174.

Job for a nerdy teenager

Playwright David Bar Katz is a self-proclaimed comic-book geek. He grew up devouring all the comics he could get his hands on and was aware that behind almost every kryptonite-ducking, damsel-in-distress-rescuing, caped-crusading superhero is a scrawny Jewish kid.

“Right now, popular culture is so dominated by superheroes,” Katz said. “The fact that the origin of [so many comic books] is just a bunch of nerdy Jewish teenagers who felt powerless during the Holocaust, it’s surreal.” He mentions Stan Lee — nee Stanley Lieber — the son of Jewish immigrants and co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and Iron Man, among others, as an example.

His “childhood landscape was a combination of reading comic books and [hearing about] pogroms from my grandmother. They got conflated in my head,” Katz said.

The result of that lifelong mash-up: “The History of Invulnerability,” a play that opens at Theater J on Wednesday, is about a normal boy who invented a superman.

Although Katz was aware of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel with more than a few thematic similarities, he says he “very specifically kept away from it because I didn’t want to be influenced in any way.”

But he isn’t surprised so many writers and readers are drawn to these mythologies. “They’re the more basic fantasies: to be able to fly, to be invulnerable, to be fearless, to have infinite strength. It takes that basic psychological wish and turns it up exponentially.”

Wednesday to July 8 at 1529 16th St. NW, www.washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/theater-j, 202-518-9400.

Pretty young things

When Nora Palka saw the original Broadway production of rock musical “Spring Awakening,” she was sitting front row center with her parents on either side. As you can probably imagine, it “was pretty awkward for the sex scene.”

Palka, 22, emerged untraumatized and the Catholic University grad is ready to get even closer to the, ahem, action: She’ll be onstage at Keegan Theatre’s production of “Spring Awakening.” She’s one of the 16 teens and 20-somethings in the show (two older actors play all the grown-up characters).

Palka, who pomp and circumstanced out of Catholic less than a month ago, is set to be in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” at Signature Theatre in Arlington with fellow “Spring Awakening” cast member Vincent Kempski in August.

The 20-year-old Kempski, a rising senior at Catholic University, previously appeared in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Grease” at Olney. His turn as Melchior, the headstrong, romantic Holden Caulfield-type lead, is “so raw,” he said. “It’s genuine teenage emotion and angst.”

Sarah Chapin, the youngest member of the cast, has a little more time to consider her post-grad game plan; she’s a 17-year-old junior at Marshall High School in Fairfax County. Last year, she was an understudy in Keegan’s “National Pastime.” (She went on for eight performances.)

Before “National Pastime,” she said, “I was a little unsure if I wanted to do this. I wasn’t sure if I could hack it.”

She isn’t worried about that anymore. “I realize that this is definitely what I want to do.”

Through July 8 at 1742 Church St. NW, www.keegantheatre.com, 703-892-0202.

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