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New York Daily News

Star Quality In A Former Miss Universe


September 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

A former Miss Universe from Puerto Rico is now working as a cigar roller - on a New York stage.

Denise Quiones, who won the Miss Universe title in 2001, is co- starring in an Off-Broadway revival of "Anna in the Tropics," the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Nilo Cruz that opened on Broadway last year.

Set in a cigar factory in 1920s Tampa, "Anna" kicked off Repertorio Espaol's fall season this week.

Quiones, whose only prior acting experience was when she charmed pageant judges, had been a dancer on a TV variety show in Puerto Rico. After her reign ended, she settled in the New York area and took acting and singing classes for two years before auditioning for Repertorio.

"Acting is what I always wanted to do since I was little," says Quiones, 24. "I had been a professional dancer before getting into this beauty-pageant thing, but this is really my passion."

While it certainly didn't hurt that she was a bit of a known commodity, the former beauty queen insists she earned the role of Marela, the dreamy youngest sister in a Cuban family that runs an Ybor City cigar factory.

"In a way, yes, you can't deny that [Repertorio] knew who I was, but the director convinced me that he gave me the part because of my talent and not because of my name - and I have to listen to him," she says, laughing.

"Actually, I didn't know she was Miss Universe when she auditioned," says "Anna's" director, Ren Buch. "She did the things we asked, and she was wonderful."

The production not only marks Quiones' acting debut, it's also the first time the play has been presented in Spanish.

Despite its Pulitzer and a Tony nomination for Best Play, "Anna" only ran for 115 performances on Broadway.

Cruz, who was born in Cuba, believes the drama's lyrical prose is actually better served in his mother tongue.

"I'm very happy it's being done in Spanish," says Cruz, who is directing "Anna" at Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse. It's one of six productions running in the U.S. and Canada (a London version is coming soon).

"When I was doing the translating, I had to rethink the language of the play, but I don't think anything was lost in translation," he says.

"On the contrary - I write in English but I think in Spanish, so this [production] is probably closer to the way I 'hear' the play."

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