Rocket Science & Salsa

The Shayla Rivera Story

By Alejo Sierra
Published on LatinoLA: July 29, 2004

Rocket Science & Salsa

Picante Pictures, in association with Pipedream Productions, presents Rocket Science and Salsa: The Shayla Rivera Story, a one-woman play featuring comic sensation Shayla Rivera. The theatrical production is directed by renowned actor/choreographer Debbie Allen and written by Shayla Rivera and Michael Ajakwe, Jr.

Encouraged by the runaway success of Jornal Feliz, a hit Brazilian sitcom developed by Allen, Ajakwe, and Bentley Kyle Evans for their production company, Picante partners David Morales and Scott Wood have tapped Debbie Allen and writer/producer Ajakwe to help shape a funny, touching autobiographical stage piece with Rivera?a rising star on the stand-up comedy circuit.

Born in Puerto Rico, the equally fiery and witty comic studied aerospace engineering at Texas A&M and then went on to work on shuttle and Space Station systems at NASA?s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

With a solid blend of comedy, music and dance, Rocket Science and Salsa draws directly from her experience as a woman, a daughter, a mother, a wife, an ex-wife, Puerto Rican, and a Rocket Scientist for her material, Shayla is recognized as one of the hottest new comics on the scene.

?NASA and I had to part ways when they wouldn?t let me put St. Christopher on the Space Shuttle dash board,? jokes Shayla with regard to her career switch.

Since moving to LA, she has crisscrossed the country as a stand-up comedian. In addition to appearances on Showtime, CBS, NBC, Galavision, Telemundo, TV commercials and short films, she recently toured with acclaimed Mexican American funnyman Paul Rodriguez at his request.

?I studied dance in Mexico City and danced for the National Ballet Company there before beginning my Broadway career,? says Dr. Debbie Allen, also a critically acclaimed director and producer.

?So I feel very close to Latino culture. Shayla is immensely talented and, on top of that, she comes to us from Houston, where I was raised.?

In addition to her stage, film and television work, Allen is the founder of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy?a performing arts center for inner-city youth. She remains one of the most respected and relevant artists working in entertainment today. Her directing credits include episodes of A Different World, NBC's Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Family Ties, and Quantum Leap. In 1992, she produced and directed the television movie Stompin' at the Savoy. In 1997, she produced Steven Spielberg's epic Amistad and the directed the musical Brothers of the Knight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. the following year. More recently, Allen has directed episodes of The Parkers and The Twilight Zone for UPN, and is currently the house director on the Will Smith executive-produced sitcom, All of Us.

Co-writer/producer Michael Ajakwe, Jr. is currently a writer/producer on the UPN hit comedy Eve. Over the past 15 years, the Emmy-winning producer (Talk Soup) has written and/or produced for a slate of TV shows including Soul Food, The Parkers, Martin, Moesha, The Brothers Garcia, Sister Sister, Talk Soup, and Steve Harvey?s Big Time. He has already helmed two productions at Zephyr Theatre this year?3 Plays By Sara Finney-Johnson at the Zephyr starring Mo?Nique, Estelle Harris, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Sicly, and Rae?Ven Larrymore Kelly and If You Don?t Believe: A Love Story (featuring the songs of Deniece Williams starring Fresh Prince co-star Tatayna Ali.

Producer David Morales was raised in Mexico City, Puerto Rico and Miami, while his partner, Scott Wood, is originally from New York. The producing duo, currently in Brazil developing projects for both the U.S. and Brazilian markets, are differentiated by their success on two continents.

?We feel at home in different cultures,? says Wood. Excited about the theatrical collaboration with Allen and Ajakwe, Morales and Wood are even more excited about the cross-fertilization of cultures that makes the Shayla Rivera Story possible.

Jornal Feliz is an American style sitcom about a middle-class black family in Brazil, for example. ?We couldn?t have done it without Debbie and Michael,? says Morales. After adding Rivera to his ?Picante Comedy Fiesta!? tour bill last year, the producer was convinced he needed to build a show around her exclusively. ?Audiences just loved her because her humor resonates across the board,? he adds.

Rocket Science & Salsa: The Shayla Rivera Story debuts with a Latin Spice Launch Opening Night party on Tuesday, August 10th at 8 p.m. and runs every Tuesday and Wednesday through Sept. 1st. For ticket information or purchase, call Inglewood Tickets at (310) 671-6400.

About Alejo Sierra:
Alejo Sierra roams the border zones in search of cross-cultural madness and literary soul food. He can often be found in a cantina called "Me Vale Madre."

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