As a young gay boy in the Venezuelan countryside, theater artist Migguel Anggelo was both fearful of and fascinated by his macho father. “I was a very very fragile and feminine boy,” Anggelo remembers. “My father was a very macho man from another generation. He always said he would rather have a prostitute daughter than a faggot son. He was like “oh my god why don’t you play baseball?” I don’t like baseball. I like ballet.”
And yet his father also adored opera and boleros, playing Pavarotti and Bizet’s Carmen while he worked as a mechanic, singing arias and love songs to Anggelo’s mother.
One night his father came home tipsy, and called on a 13-year-old Anggelo to help him set up a barbecue in the backyard. He remembers that it was 9:30pm on May 31st, 1988, because everyone else was inside watching the premiere of a new telenovela. His father climbed a ladder to fix a broken light, touched a naked wire, and electrocuted himself. When Anggelo rushed towards his father “He screamed “NO!” I never in my life heard anyone scream so bad, so ugly. At the time I thought he didn’t want me to help him. But he knew if I touched him it would electrocute me too. As an adult I understand he saved me. He always said he didn’t want a gay son, but he saved my life.”
That experience inspired LatinXoxo, the one-man cabaret/performance piece which Anggelo performs at the Miami Beach Bandshell for Out in the Tropics on April 8, this year’s only show in the annual festival presented by FUNDarte and Miami Light Project. In Xoxo Anggelo embodies extravagant versions of the Virgin Mary, the operatic character Carmen, and macho toreador Don Jose, in a mix of personal storytelling, rambunctious cultural identity switching, queer comedy, dance, and audience interaction, with a live band accompanying him on classic boleros, pop covers, and original songs. LatinXoxo was a hit at the recent Under the Radar festival in New York City, where it played at Joe’s Pub, the famous Public Theater cabaret where Anggelo performs frequently. Cabaret-style seating and other changes will bring a more intimate, nightclub-like atmosphere to the Bandshell.
In the piece, Anggelo attempts to reconcile the contradictions of his relationship with his father, being gay, and the religiosity, machismo, and passion of Venezuelan culture. The Virgin Mary is for his ardently Catholic country. Carmen was his father’s favorite opera, and also represents Anggelo’s “horny teenage years” and his powerful mother. Don Jose is a cliché Latin macho man, with a sensitive underside. Through them, Anggelo talks to his father.
“I had to say something about how father and son hate each other, but love each other,” Anggelo says. “Everything in the show I say is true.”
LatinXoxo is especially relevant at a moment when both the LGBTQ community and immigrants are under increasing attacks from state government and right-wing forces in Florida.
FUNDarte founder Ever Chavez said Anggelo and LatinXoxo are perfect for the bi-cultural celebration of gay artistry he started in 2009. “He really showcases the story of a gay man in a Latin country,” Chavez says. “He is telling the audience how he became an immigrant, how it was there, how it is now. That he can become a person, an artist free to do what he wants.”
Miami Light Project gave Anggelo a weeklong residency in late 2021 to develop LatinXoxo from its lighter, more traditional cabaret style original version, to the more revealing current one. “I’m always on the lookout for artists representing diverse perspectives,” says MLP artistic and executive director Beth Boone. “LatinXoxo was the perfect marriage of queer sensibility combined with Latin flavor.”
“It was magical,” Anggelo said of the residency, which he spent with the show’s musical director/composer and a new director. “They [MLP] were amazing, so helpful, so wonderful, so warm. You can tell they really care.”
Even on the phone from his Brooklyn Heights apartment, Anggelo, 50, is flamboyant and extravagantly unfiltered – and often hilarious. If his father was hostile towards gays, his mother and family were accepting. “When I was 12 I told my mom “mommy, mommy, I think I like boys.” She told me ok that’s good let’s have this conversation when you’re 18. When I was she came to me and said “do you remember you told me you like boys?” And I said “yes, but it changed, before I like boys, now I like men”.”
He asked to gather their huge extended family (his mother has seven married sisters) so he could tell them. “We said there’s something we want to tell you – Migguel is gay. And they all said “We know that!!” All my straight cousins said bring your boyfriends to us, we have to approve them. My uncle Ricardo, he was my father’s best friend, very machista, he came to me and said “I don’t care if you like boys or girls, I just want you to be happy. If a guy hurts you let me know, and I’ll take care of it”.”
Anggelo’s life has been marked by fearless chance-taking, talent, and luck. Soon after his father passed, he debuted in the lead role of a major production of a musical of Pinocchio, then continued doing musical theater in Caracas. At 23, took off to Germany to visit his grandfather’s birthplace. Out of money, he began singing for change on the streets of Cologne, where he was spotted by a teacher at a local conservatory, leading to a scholarship and three years studying classical voice and counter-tenor technique. On a visit home, he auditioned, on a whim, for a Latin American Broadway tour of the musical Fame, was cast in a lead role, and toured the continent for two and a half years. He went home to Venezuela as Chavez came to power in 1999, and moved to Miami soon after, ahead of millions of his countrymen.
“I said uh oh, this guy is gonna destroy my country,” Anggelo says. “I always said he was a dictator who would bring communism.”
Between tours and living in the U.S., he’s spent over half his life outside Venezuela, and became a U.S. citizen during the pandemic. Reconciling his roots, culture and language with his identity as an immigrant has become an important part of his art. “I have always tried to be in a place where I could express myself with freedom,” he says. “Being an immigrant is very difficult. I love the U.S., but I will always be Venezuelan. We are all immigrants from the moment we leave our mother’s womb. Everyone has their own journey.”
In Miami he tried unsuccessfully to start a recording career, then gave up performing for a time, working retail jobs, and starting a relationship with David Stark, a designer and event producer who’s now his husband and manager. But Anggelo continued to write music and paint (another creative outlet.) “I said to myself ‘one day I’m gonna find my opportunity to do what I want, and I better be ready’,” he says. Seven years ago, after the luxury Design District store where he was working closed, he and Stark moved to New York City. (The couple still have an apartment in Miami.)
There his career has exploded. He’s recorded two albums, and created multiple hybrid shows blending cabaret, music, dance and theater, and been awarded residencies at prestigious venues including Lincoln Center, Joe’s Pub, MASS MoCA, and Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. He’s currently developing English with an Accent, a dance-theater piece with original music.
LatinXoxo was a turning point, the most personally revealing show he’d ever done. “At the beginning it was very hard,” Anggelo says. “Sometimes I was like ‘I don’t want to do this.’ And the composer, the director, everyone kept saying ‘c’mon, you can do this’. And I’m like ‘ok, I’m gonna do this for me and for [my father].”
“Every time I do this show, before I come onstage I always say ‘ok dad, this is for you’.”
Eventz Paul is currently the Technical Director and Productions Manager at Miami Light Project. He has been a part of this organization since 2011. He participated in Miami Light Project’s first class of the Technical Fellowship Program held at The Light Box. He joined this program hoping to improve his existing theater skills. He received training from experts in the industry that mentored and further his theater technical skills. Now, he has successfully used his professional knowledge and has had the opportunity to work with various arts organizations and venues throughout Miami including Miami Theater Center, National Young Arts Foundation, the Colony Theatre and many more. He has become an instructor and conducts audiovisual classes to incoming technical fellows.
Beth Boone has been the Artistic & Executive Director of Miami Light Project since 1998, developing critically acclaimed artistic programs that have asserted the organization as one of the leading cultural institutions in South Florida. These programs include: the establishment of Here & Now, South Florida’s most respected commission and presenting program for community-based artists; premiere presentations of internationally acclaimed; pioneering historic international cultural exchange with Cuba; and the creation of The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, a multi-use performance and visual art space in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. She previously served as Associate Director of Development for Florida Grand Opera, Deputy Director for the Department of Cultural Affairs at Miami Dade Community College, Wolfson Campus, co-founded an Off Broadway theater company (New York Rep), and served for six years as a Program Associate in the Arts & Culture Program of the AT&T Foundation. She received a B.A. in Fine Arts from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and a MFA in Theater Arts from Brandeis University in Boston, MA.