Immersive musical about the rise of unionism and healing of racial divides in 1918 Tampa

February 5-26, 2020
A co-production of Brooklyn Tavern Theater and Art Boundaries Unlimited, Inc.
In two venues:
RUSTIK TAVERN, 471 Dekalb Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11205 (Bed-Stuy), 7:00 PM Feb. 5, 12, 18, 19 and 26. Free admission for standing room. $20 premium seating is available at:, Info: 718-213-8885
THE PLAYERS, 16 Gramercy Park South, NYC 10003 (Gramercy Park). 7:00 PM February 10 and 25. General admission $20 at, Info: 718-213-8885
Running time: 2 hours
Show's website:
This evolving work is not open for review but news and feature coverage are invited.

NEW YORK, January 12 -- "Ybor City," an original musical with book by Anita Gonzalez and music and lyrics by Dan Furman, is a story of romance and labor organizing in 1918 Tampa, where the Afro-Cuban workforce joined with Italian and Spanish immigrants to unionize the new American cigar industry. The tuner will be presented as a work-in-progress February 5 to 26 by Brooklyn Tavern Theater, which is is pioneering a new theatrical genre: no-frills, immersive musicals presented as Equity showcases in hospitable taprooms. Performances will be Feb. 5, 12, 18, 19 and 26 at Rustik Tavern, 471 Dekalb Ave., Bed-Stuy and February 10 and 25 at The Players, 16 Gramercy Park South, Manhattan. Vernice Miller directs a cast of eleven. Co-producer is Art Boundaries Unlimited, Inc.

The musical is set in Ybor City, a neighborhood of Tampa, FL that was founded in the 1880s by Vincente Martinez Ybor and other cigar manufacturers. It was unique in the American South as a successful town almost entirely populated and owned by immigrants. The Fuente Cigar Factory, scene of the strike in the play, was established there in 1912 and still exists today. From the late 19th century until World War I, unrest from the Cuban War for Independence caused many cigar makers to move their operations to South Florida. To attract employees, Ybor built hundreds of small houses for an influx of skilled Cuban and Spanish cigar makers, who were soon joined by unskilled immigrants from Sicily. They, along with unskilled Afro-Cubans, worked in support jobs like cleaning and hauling and eventually became cigar workers too.

In the history of American race relations, the cigar worker community of Ybor City stands out as a little Utopian cell. Most African Americans who lived in Tampa, Florida between 1900 and 1920 were agricultural workers or domestic servants. The Afro-Cubans of the area were able to somewhat circumvent Jim Crow laws by confining their activities and associations to the cigar worker community.

This musical is set in 1918, a time of burgeoning of unionization within tabaquero or cigar roller communities. In the play an Afro-Cuban immigrant named Pedro tries to reconcile his status as a Black man within his tightly knit, mixed-race, tobacco worker enclave. Two women, Irina and Teresa, help the man and the community to adapt to the societal changes that challenge the once-unified Cuban community.

The industrial scene in the cigar factories was rather unique. Women were an important part of the workforce, since cigar rolling depends entirely on manual dexterity. Readers were perched above the factory floor and paid by the workers themselves to break up the monotony of the work. They read newspapers and novels; reflecting the political climate, much of what was read was political and with radical views. Interestingly, they were tolerated by management, who accepted them as an accommodation to the labor scene.

In the play, a young man named Rafael comes to town to read newspapers for the factory workers and falls in love with Teresa, the sister of a union organizer named Catalino. Romance blossoms and tensions rise. When Catalino stands up for worker rights, violence erupts. The community struggles to unite against an abusive factory owner and collectively form a multi-racial union.

The play is partly based upon the life story of the Afro-Cuban grandfather of book writer Anita Gonzalez. His name was Pedro Paulo Gonzalez and he was an early Cuban immigrant to Tampa. Born in Santiago, Cuba he came to Tampa to work and first found employment making boxes to ship cigars. He died in the Yellow Fever epidemic in 1918. His history is filtered through the stories of Anita's grandmother, an immigrant from the Bahamas who had married a cigar roller to be upwardly mobile.

The romances of the play were Anita Gonzalez's plot creation. The play also contains realistic interactions between the strikers and the company that were inspired by first-hand experiences of composer Dan Furman, who has worked as a union member in manufacturing"day jobs" and lived through strikes as an insider.

A book, "More Than Black: Afro-Cubans in Tampa (New World Diasporas)" by Susan D. Greenbaum, helped bring perspective to the authors in their plot development. It is an ethnography that follows Cuban exiles from Jose Marti's revolution to the Jim Crow South in Tampa, Florida, as they shaped an Afro-Cuban-American identity over five generations. It traces the unfolding consequences that began when the black and white solidarity of emigrating Cubans came up against Jim Crow racism and progressed through a painful renegotiation of allegiances and identities.

To some extent, the characters of Pedro and Irina are based on Anita Gonzalez's grandparents. Rafael and Teresa are created characters. Luisa, a friend of Teresa, is based on Luisa Capetillo (1879-1922), a famed labor leader and Women's Rights activist of Puerto Rico who actually worked as a reader in Tampa in 1917.

The score by Dan Furman is melodic and tuneful, touching on many different Latin styles including Son Cubano and Rumba, with many more modern influences.

Anita Gonzalez met Dan Furman through Dramatists Guild events. She has been developing the project for about ten years now through grants (Rockefeller–Bellagio Italy) and readings (Dixon Place, Williams College, The University of Mainz-Germany, Tallahassee Little Theater).  The musical had a staged reading at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Manhattan in the summer of 2015, a studio production at the University of Michigan in early 2017 and was workshopped in Manhattan in early 2018.

This production is co-produced by Brooklyn Tavern Theater and Art Boundaries Unlimited, Inc. with additional support from the University of Michigan and in-kind support from ALATetc (

Brooklyn Tavern Theater ( serves theater in places where you wouldn't expect it. Its performances are in taverns and institutions that are open to the public, but only (at this point) on slow days for the drinking crowd--Sundays through Wednesdays. Admission is free to these Equity Showcase productions. While the troupe passes the hat (like its "cousin" in Poor Theater, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot), it also depends on grants and contributions for part of its budget. Donations are accepted online through Brooklyn Arts Council at

Art Boundaries Unlimited, Inc. ( presents and produces cross-cultural arts projects which promote national and international linkages. It sponsors lectures, workshops, and programming by national and international artists; promotes cultural touring and outreach programs for local, national, and international communities; and publishes books and journals about international arts projects and experiences.

The actors are Miguel Anaya, Pilin Anice, Lauren Baez, Fernando Bruno, Giancarlo Herrera, Cedric Leiba, Jr., Daniel Lugo, Luis E. Mora, Belén Moyano, JL Rey and Yosvany Reyes.

Movement Director is Stephanie Batten Bland. Music Director is Dan Furman. Production Stage Manager is Raymond Johannes Kraft. Lighting Designer is E.K. Rivera. Costume Designer is Keyon Woods.

Dan Furman (writer, lyricist, composer) hails from Old Hickory, Tennessee (just outside Nashville). He began playing piano and composing music at an early age and went on to study composition and jazz piano at Oberlin Conservatory. After moving to New York in 2003 to play jazz, he began writing for music theater as well. He spent four years in the BMI Lehman Engels Musical Theater Workshop and his musical, “RIP!” (now named “Impossible But True”), was featured in the 2011 Midtown International Theatre Festival. Furman is composer/lyricist/bookwriter of "Impossible But True," a "tavern musical" inspired by Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle story, which was presented by Brooklyn Tavern Theater last October at Franklin 820, a neighborhood tavern in Crown Heights. He wrote the theme song for the Big Apple Circus 2010-11 show, “Dance On!” He is currently writing book, music and lyrics for "The Proust Virus," a musical about video game characters who come to life. He also contributed music and lyrics to the 2019 premiere of Arnold Schulman’s “Sign in the Six O’Clock Sky.” He lives in Brooklyn and is Director of Brooklyn Tavern Theater. He often music directs cabaret shows in Manhattan. (

Anita Gonzalez (book) is Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, Chair of Dance and a Professor of Theatre and Drama at University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Her writings have appeared on PBS national television and at Links Hall – Chicago, Lincoln Center Out-of Doors, the Working Theatre, the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, New York Live Arts, TribecaPerforming Arts Center, The Cell and Dixon Place. Works in development include the libretto for "Home of my Ancestors" (Houston Grand Opera Co.) and co-authoring the book for the musical "Ayanna Kelly" (a Black Caribbean woman time travels through British pubs until she finds self-discovery). She has completed three Senior Scholar Fulbright grants and been awarded a residency at Rockefeller’s Bellagio Center in Italy. She was a Humanities Center Fellow at the University of Michigan during the 2017/18 academic year and she is a recent recipient of the Shirley Verrett Award for outstanding teaching of performance. She is a member of the National Theatre Conference, Lincoln Center Director’s Lab and League of Professional Women. (

Vernice Miller (director) collaborated with jazz musician Wynton Marsalis on Eatonville, a Zora Neal Hurston project; and ten years working internationally with HBO comedienne Hazelle Goodman. Most recently Miller was invited to shadow director Felix Alcala on the CBS series Madam Secretary throughout filming of season 6 episode 9 Carpe Diem. Her stage work includes directing "Three Women (Break the Silence)" by anthropologist Dr. Omotayo Jolaosho at the Market Theater Laboratory in Johannesburg before touring South Africa. In Slovenia and Poland, Miller performed and co-directed "Nomansland" for Seth Baumrin’s Subpoetics International. Last summer Miller directed "Bee Trapped Inside the Window" by Saviana Stanescu, commissioned by Civic Ensemble in Ithaca, NY. In 1995, Miller and Joann Maria Yarrow co-founded A Laboratory for Actor Training Experimental Theatre Company (ALATetc) to evolve work they began with Roberta Carreri at Eugenio Barba's Odin Teatret in Denmark. Miller has devised and presented work with incarcerated youth at the Finger Lakes Residential Center in Lansing New York. She is recipient of the London New Play Festival's Best Actress Award for her solo performance of "Medea: Now." (

Stefanie Batten Bland (associate director/movement director) situates her work at the intersection of installation and dance theater. Based in NYC, she founded Company SBB in France in 2008 while head choreographer at the Paris Opera Comique. The company is now in permanent residence at University Settlement and has appeared at La MaMa. She has been commissioned by Ailey II, Gina Gibney Dance, Spoleto Festival Italy, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Singapore Frontier Danceland, Brooklyn Museum and others globally. Her many awards include the Bessie and Jerome Robbins awards in 2016. She was movement director for "Eve’s Song" at the Public Theater, choreographed for Juilliard New Dances and American Ballet Theatre’s inaugural Women's Movement Initiative, and created a performance installation at the EU for the United Nations highlighting the role the performing arts plays in climate change awareness. Bland also directs dance cinema films that have been shown internationally and creates for Louis Vuitton, VanCleef & Arpels and Hermes. She is a 2019 fellow for NYU’s Center for the Ballet Arts. She holds an MFA in interdisciplinary arts from Goddard College. (

The show's website is:

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The producers request no critiques of this work-in-progress, but news and feature coverage are invited.
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