Though underrated in her lifetime, painter Frida Kahlo has achieved the kind of posthumous cult status that jumps the banks of the fine art world and spills over into popular recognition. Her brutal and tender paintings and self-portraits are art-world treasures, but her image has eclipsed medium, fueling an endless churn of merchandise and so-called “Fridamania.” Now the iconic artist’s story is destined for a new telling, with last week’s announcement of a forthcoming Broadway musical about her life and times.
Authorized by Kahlo’s living family members, Frida, The Musical will be produced by Valentina Berger and feature music by Jaime Lozano and lyrics by playwright Neena Beber.
“As a Mexican immigrant myself — as once Frida was in New York City — I have always felt really strong about telling the stories of my gente, my people, my community, my country, through my music which is always inspired by Mexican and Latin music,” Lozano told Hyperallergic. “To have the privilege to tell Frida’s story is a great honor and responsibility that we are taking from a very genuine place, with the mission to honor her life and legacy.”
The production seeks to tell Kahlo’s story in a comprehensive arc that begins with her upbringing in Mexico City, including the bus accident in her late teens that shattered her spine and pelvis, causing damage that would usher in a lifelong relationship with physical pain and impede her ability to safely carry children to term. The narrative follows her dramatic marriage to painter Diego Rivera and their international escapades through Paris and New York City as one of the highest-profile art couples of their day.
The story comes home to the “Blue House” in the Mexico City borough of Coyoacán, Kahlo’s celebrated homestead that remains a major tourist destination to this day. The musical is the first production of its kind sanctioned by her family, and draws in part on details from Intimate Frida, a 2006 book by her niece Isolda P. Kahlo.
“In all the stories I heard when I was a little child, our family remembered Aunt Frida as a very joyful woman,” Mara Romeo Kahlo, universal heiress to the Frida Kahlo legacy, told the Washington Post. “She was passionate about music, arts and Mexican culture. ‘Frida, The Musical’ honors everything she was: a real woman who fought for her dreams, loved like anybody else and always lived ahead of her time.”
She also lived a tragically abbreviated life, passing away at merely 47 years old, after decades of pain and perseverance — but also great fun and joy.
“I really connected to her humor,” Beber told the Washington Post. “I don’t think I knew how funny she was — that she had this wry, dry sense of humor. She really was of the people … I think there’s room for multiple Fridas. We want to bring our own passions, love, interests, pain to her story. Let there be many Fridas.”
The production is expected to do some regional circulation next year before debuting on Broadway in 2024. Lozano has already written ten songs for the musical, including “Wings,” previewed in a performance as part of the “American Songbook” series at the Lincoln Center’s Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in April. Kahlo-heads and Broadway buffs alike can prepare for this latest installment in the ongoing fascination with a singular and enigmatic figure in art history — one whose audience is always demanding another encore.