‘Write’ From the Heart: An Interview with Sonia Manzano!

by Fred Stuart for Theatrical Rights Worldwide

Sonia Manzano may not have known it, but she has been preparing to write a musical her whole life! Manzano has played the beloved character Maria on Sesame Street for over 30 years. It seems just a few golden years ago that I used to watch her character come to life each day. Her still youthful appearance matches her infectious energy, especially when discussing her new Theatre for Young Audiences musical, NO DOGS ALLOWED. Her experience with the masterful musical theatre monsters of Muppet land may have accidentally prepared her for her career’s latest incarnation: Musical Theatre book writer!

Sonia Manzano

The journey from page to stage has been a rewarding one for Manzano. After winning 15 writing Emmys at Sesame Street, she penned the brilliant source material for the musical, NO DOGS ALLOWED. She took the plunge into musical theatre writing when she decided to turn that children’s picture book into a musical.

Sonia agreed to sit down for some coffee with me recently, (iced coffee to cool the heat of the New York City summer!) and we discussed the exciting writing process that brought NO DOGS ALLOWED to the stage.

FS: Hiya, Sonia. Thanks for taking some time to have a cup and talk with us about NO DOGS ALLOWED.

SM: You are welcome, Fred. Good to see you again.

FS: Sonia, you taking time out of your uber-busy schedule to hang out for a bit is just great. Thank you!

SM: You’re still welcome.

FS: Got it. Sorry. I know – I’m gushing…! It’s just that — I’m just expressing my gratitude that you would meet for this amazing coffee and chat about NO DOGS ALLOWED.

SM: Great.

FS: Of course. Down to brass tacks and all that. How’s your coffee?

SM: It’s good!

FS: OK, OK. Got it. Mine too. Anyhoo-No Dogs Allowed! the book was written and released in 2004, right?

SM: Yes.

FS: When did you get the idea to develop your awesome kid’s book into a musical?

SM: The best musicals have great stories. Once I wrote a good story, I realized I had perfect material for a musical.

FS: Speaking of great stories, weren’t you in the original company of Godspell?

Sonia: That’s right. And certainly Godspell has one of the most enduring stories ever told…

FS: …couple that with great music…

Sonia: …and you got a hit!

FS: Sonia, you are a musical theatre actor and Sesame Street has always been so genius on doing musical tributes to Broadway and using the musical theatre format in so many ways. Has some of that passion for musical theatre writing rubbed-off on you over the years?

SM: I was born right here in the USA yet found few stories about Latin people to enjoy when I was growing up. I hope my books and other books by Latino writers have remedied that situation for coming generations. Next I’d like to see more Latino stories in theater pieces.

FS: You should write a musical IN Spanish!

SM: My Spanish isn’t good enough! I could write it with a little of both languages. Hmmm. I’ll give that some thought.

FS: I’m just sayin’. I really fell in love with NO DOGS ALLOWED, as you know, and I’m so happy to find out about the nature of the story and how close it is to your family.

SCERA Center's production of NO DOGS ALLOWED in 2010

SM: All the characters in NO DOGS ALLOWED are based on real members of my family. My beautiful cousin Carmen used to take hair curlers wherever we went! My cousin Maria (Marta) read constantly. My mother always cooked three full meals.

FS: And just like in “Just Bring What You Need,” did you-

SM: Yes, we did take tons of stuff on family picnics. But it’s funny how many non- Latinos relate to the story. I can’t tell you how many folks say to me, “My family used to do that too!” I realize again, that we all have the same human experience.

FS: You recently appeared in NYC on stage in “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” Was it pretty cool to be back on stage again? Have you had a throw-down with ELMO over the red thing? (I watched your LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE video on YouTube.)

SM: Yep. I wore black in that show but had the opportunity to mention jokingly that I can’t wear red, my best color, on Sesame Street because Elmo is red. Oh well, I guess it’s a small price to pay to be near greatness! (Laughs) But the stage is my first love. The immediacy and intimacy of it is exciting.

FS: You stay so busy in the biz…Are you planning more books and musicals?

SM: Maybe. I’m writing a Young Adult novel for Scholastic that will be out in the fall of 2012!

FS: Fantastic! We’ll be looking for that.

SM: Thank you.

FS: So…one more question while we wait for the check?

SM: One more.

FS: Does it ever get tiresome when all the grown-up guys who watched Sesame Street over the years confess that they had huge crushes on Maria?

SM: Never!

FS: Cool. Thanks again, Sonia…See you soon!

For information about licensing your production of NO DOGS ALLOWED, visit the show’s homepage at www.theatricalrights.com. And be sure to visit the PerusalsNow™ Store where you can INSTANTLY download and read any show in the TRW catalogue!