First Bilingual Series ‘¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A?’ Gets a Stage Production Set 40 Years Later

Lead Photo: Courtesy of WPBT2 South Florida PBS
Courtesy of WPBT2 South Florida PBS
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PBS’ ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A? is a cult classic. Airing between 1977 and 1980, the program is the country’s first bilingual sitcom. Created by Manny Mendoza and head writer Luis Santeiro, ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A? followed three generations of Peñas living in Miami’s Little Havana. Through this Cuban family, the series accurately portrays the generational differences that exist in many immigrant communities. The groundbreaking show lived on through re-runs in the decades since it first hit the airwaves (and is now available on PBS’ website), but soon we’ll be getting a reboot for the series. In May, the show will hit the stage as ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.? Today … 40 Years Later. 

This version will take place 40 years later and follow the same actors who gave life to the characters we love. “Today, the abuelos are gone, the parents have become grandparents, an the kids have kids of their own,” the description on the Adrienne Arsht Center website reads. “Now, it’s up to the next generation to continue the Peña legacy, facing new challenges and new laughs while forging a new future for the Peña household.”

Steven Bauer (then credited as Rocky Echevarría) will reprise his role as Joe, and Ana Margo will once again play his sister, Carmen. Connie Ramirez (Violeta) and Barbara Ann Martin (Sharon) will also be a part of the production. However, Manolo Villaverde (Pepe) and Ana Margarita Martínez (Juana) won’t join them. Though the show made waves around the country, it was fraught with controversy behind the scenes. A co-production between the US government and WPBT-2, the sitcom was supposed to be a non-profit venture. Yet, WPBT-2 sold DVDs of the show and used images of the actors for marketing material. The stars of ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A? – who signed away their rights – didn’t see any of the profits.

Albareda, who said WPBT-2 granted him the rights to create the stage show, tried to make amends with Manolo Villaverde and Ana Margarita Martínez, who played the original parents. But they told Albareda the years of resentment were too much to bear to be part of this production. Bahamonde, however, even recommended the new show’s writer and wished the new cast success. Play producer Nelson Albareda – who wanted to “bring the story back for future generations” – tried to make amends, but Manolo and Ana Margarita still decided not to participate, according to the Miami Herald.

Bauer himself felt iffy about the play, but eventually felt compelled to join. “This is not just a show to me,” he said. “This is a play about our lives.”

¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.? Today … 40 Years Later will run from May 17 to May 26 at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. Miami, Florida 33132. Learn more here.