The production, which is expected to open on Broadway in 2024 after regional tryouts next year, will follow Kahlo’s life from Mexico City to Paris to New York, and back to the famous “Blue House” where she was born and died in 1954. Titled “Frida, The Musical,” the show will include music by Jaime Lozano and lyrics by playwright Neena Beber, and it will be produced by Valentina Berger.
Much has already been said about Kahlo, but the musical’s creators hope the show will offer a new look at her life, illuminating previously untold details and personal stories about the beloved artist. It will be based partially on the book “Intimate Frida,” by her niece Isolda P. Kahlo, and informed by conversations with Kahlo’s family in Mexico. Although there have been other attempts to make Kahlo’s life story a musical, this is the only one her family has officially signed off on.
“In all the stories I heard when I was a little child, our family remembered Aunt Frida as a very joyful woman,” said Mara Romeo Kahlo, universal heiress to the Frida Kahlo legacy, in a statement to 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.”
Although Kahlo merchandise sometimes packages the artist as a bubbly feminist icon, and art historians tend to focus on her physical and emotional suffering — depicted so vividly in her work — the creators of the musical say they want to capture something more three-dimensional. “We really want to see Frida through a wider perspective,” said Lozano in a phone interview.
Berger concurs. “Everyone knows a colder Frida, a suffering Frida, but she loved life,” Berger said. “She was really, really fun. That’s what we want to portray. I used to have a sad view of Frida, like, ‘Oh, the poor woman.’ Now, knowing how she was so smart and so clever, I look up to her.”
Beber, the playwright, is excited about capturing Kahlo’s funny side, which she believes is often overlooked. “I really connected to her humor,” she said. “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.”
The musical is only the latest of many forays into Frida’s life. The 2002 biopic “Frida” (starring Salma Hayek as Kahlo and Alfred Molina as her husband, painter Diego Rivera) received mixed reviews. More recently, the artist has been fodder for immersive experiences, including “Mexican Geniuses.” Her estate also recently announced that it is developing a TV series based on her life and work.
To Beber, the seemingly endless content doesn’t mean Kahlo’s life has already been done. “Why are people still doing Shakespeare?” she said. “Why are people still finding ways to make ‘Hamlet’ exciting? How many self-portraits did Frida do? Quite a few. 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.”
Her personal story certainly has a dramatic quality. The artist had an affair with Russian-Ukrainian revolutionary Leon Trotsky during her volatile marriage to Rivera. A streetcar accident at age 18 damaged her spine and pelvis, leaving her with chronic, debilitating pain. Throughout her life, she often painted from bed and depicted own body as fragmented, bleeding, split into two — as if trying to make sense of its breakdown. She died at 47.
But there’s also a lighter side to Kahlo, according to Berger, who visited the Kahlo family in Mexico last week and who likens Kahlo and her three sisters to the “Kardashians of Mexico.” Berger says she learned that, before Kahlo would leave on trips, she would tell her sisters to give her husband a bath. “I mean, how close do you have to be to your sisters to suggest something like that?” Berger said.
Throughout Berger’s trip, she got other insights into Kahlo’s life, too, which she hopes will inform the musical. She visited the basement at Kahlo’s mother’s house, where Kahlo hid when Rivera got violent. She heard Kahlo’s family play the songs Frida used to sing. She listened to firsthand accounts of Frida: how she was always laughing and telling crazy stories.
Lozano also visited the Kahlo family, who asked him to write the music for the production. The composer, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 2007, has spent much of his career telling Latinx stories and says he relates to Kahlo, who was, like him, a Mexican immigrant in New York at one point in life.
“She is such an inspiration, not only as an artist but also as a warrior,” he said. “With everything she went through, she kept fighting, making her own art, telling her own story. As a Mexican, to be telling this story and bringing this authenticity to the show, I feel really honored.”
Ten songs have been written for the musical so far, two of which Lozano previewed at the “American Songbook” series at Lincoln Center in April. One song, “Wings,” captures Kahlo’s persistence — and even joy — amid suffering. It’s based on a famous quote from Kahlo, related to her chronic pain, which often kept her bedridden: “Feet,” she said, “what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”