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Hail to the Cheech



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LATINOS are adding some color, not to mention some belly laughs, to the Great White Way. Now playing at the Helen Hayes Theatre, "Latinologues" is the first Broadway production to boast an all-Latino cast and crew.

The brainchild of Rick Najera, whose writing credits include "Mad TV" and "In Living Color," "Latinologues" turns stereotypes inside-out through a poignant collection of monologues about Latino life in America. Along with stars Eugenio Derbez, Rene Lavan and Hell's Kitchen native Shirley A. Rumierk, Najera skewers immigration, restaurants, beauty pageants and Hollywood.

Although the play has toured the country for eight years, Najera added a new twist for its Broadway opening: enlisting Cheech Marin as the play's director. The 59-year-old Chicano comedian, famous for his classic stoner "Cheech and Chong" movies as well as his numerous TV roles, talked to The Post about his Broadway stint:

Here you are - Cheech Marin, the guy from the stoner movies - directing a Broadway play. What can we expect?

Well, I've always directed. I was the co-director of the "Cheech and Chong" movies but didn't get credited. And I was the director of "Born in East L.A." and a number of other things. The thing you can expect from me is the development and the interconnectedness between the characters, staging, music and lighting direction. I'm gonna try to make it as funny and poignant as possible.

When I heard about the show, I wondered, "Is this 'The Vagina Monologues' in Spanish?"

No, it's not read, it's acted out. Four actors play like 17 different characters. They come out and perform monologues, and they create worlds and refer to one another. Sometimes they act together.

What cultures are the characters referencing? Will Latinos in New York relate to the characters?

The New York audience is probably the most sophisticated audience in the world. The characters talk about many Latino cultures - Chicano, Dominican, Cuban and Puerto Rican, to name a few. The show talks right to them in an accent they know.

So will the experiences of the ordinary Joe be talked about?

Them more than anybody.

The show is in English. Any plans for a Spanish version?

If you understand Spanish, you get more out of the play than if you don't. But it's in English. That's what we're trying to create - a Latino audience that speaks both languages.

What's the age group you're targeting?

About 3 1/2 years old.

Now through Dec. 4. Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St., between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. Tuesdays through Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 and 9 p.m.; Sundays, 3 and 7 p.m.; (212) 239-6200. Tickets, $40 and $60.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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