“Frida, the Musical” brings the life story of the painter to Broadway


Mexican painter Frida Kahlo has garnered so much attention—films, immersive experiences, t-shirts, and tote bags—that it’s surprising there’s still content left to make for Kahlo. But the Fridamania knows no end: On Thursday it was announced that Kahlo’s life story will be filmed.

The production, which is expected to open on Broadway in 2024 after regional auditions 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. The show, titled “Frida, The Musical,” will feature music by Jaime Lozano and lyrics by playwright Neena Beber, and will be produced by Valentina Berger.

Much has been said about Kahlo, but the creators of the musical hope the show will offer a new look at her life and shed light on previously untold details and personal stories about the beloved artist. It will be based in part on the book “Intimate Frida” by her niece Isolda P. Kahlo, and informed through conversations with Kahlo’s family in Mexico. Although there have been other attempts to adapt Kahlo’s life story into a musical, this is the only one her family has officially approved of.

“In all the stories I heard when I was a little kid, our family remembered Aunt Frida as a very happy woman,” Mara Romeo Kahlo, universal heir to Frida Kahlo’s legacy, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “She had a passion for music, art and Mexican culture. ‘Frida, The Musical’ honors everything she was: a real woman who fought for her dreams, loved like everyone else and was always 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 appearance Suffering – which is so vividly portrayed in their work – the creators of the musical say they want to capture something more three-dimensional. “We really want to see Frida from a broader perspective,Lozano said in a phone interview.

Berger agrees. “Everyone knows a colder Frida, a suffering Frida, but she loved life,” said Berger. “She was really, really fun. That’s what we want to show. I used to have a sad look at Frida, like, ‘Oh, poor woman.’ Now that I know how smart and clever she was, I look up to her.”

Beber, the playwright, is excited to capture Kahlo’s funny side, which she says is often overlooked. “I really connected to their humor,” she said. “I don’t think I realized how funny she was — that she had this wry, dry sense of humor. She really belonged to the people.”

The musical is just the last of many forays into Frida’s life. The 2002 biopic Frida (starring Salma Hayek as Kahlo and Alfred Molina as her painter husband Diego Rivera) received mixed reviews. More recently, the artist has been fodder for immersive experiences including Mexican Geniuses. Her estate recently announced that they are developing a TV series based on her life and work.

For Beber, the seemingly endless content doesn’t mean Kahlo’s life is already over. “Why are people still doing Shakespeare?” she said. “Why are people still finding ways to make Hamlet exciting? How many self-portraits did Frida take? Already a few. I think there is room for more Fridas. We want to bring our own passions, love, interests and pain into their story. Let there be many Fridas.”

You may think you know Frida Kahlo, but you will never understand her pain

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 tram accident at age 18 damaged her spine and pelvis, leaving her with chronic, debilitating pain. Throughout her life, she would often paint from her bed, depicting her own body as fragmented, bleeding, split in two—as if trying to make sense of its breakdown. She died at 47.

But Kahlo also has a lighter side, According to Berger, who visited the Kahlo family in Mexico last week and compared Kahlo and her three sisters to the “Kardashians of Mexico.” Berger says she learned that before Kahlo would travel, she would tell her sisters to bathe her husband. “I mean, how close do you have to be to your sisters to propose something like that?” Berger said.

There is love and irony in Frida Kahlo’s painting of herself with her husband

During Berger’s trip, she also gained other insights into Kahlo’s life that she hopes will influence the musical. She visited the basement at Kahlo’s mother’s house, where Kahlo was hiding when Rivera became violent. She heard Kahlo’s family playing the songs Frida used to sing. She listened to Frida first hand accounts: 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 has a relationship with Kahlo, who, like him, was once a Mexican immigrant in New York.

“She’s such an inspiration, not only as an artist but also as a warrior,” he said. “Throughout everything she’s been through, she’s kept fighting, making her own art, telling her own story. As a Mexican, I’m truly honored to tell this story and bring this authenticity to the show.”

Ten songs have been written for the musical so far, two of which Lozano presented at the American Songbook series at Lincoln Center in April. One song, “Wings,” captures Kahlo’s perseverance — and even joy — amidst suffering. It’s based on a famous Kahlo quote that refers to her chronic pain that often left her bedridden: “Feet,” she said, “what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”

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