Marc Anthony: Best of Both Worlds

Don't say crossover to Marc Anthony. With a pop album in English and a salsa album in Spanish, he wants it all

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Hedging his bets, Anthony is also finishing a new English-language pop CD, for which he co-wrote more than half the songs. Two of them, Love Can't Get Any Better and She Mends Me, hold the promise of a long shelf life. The first is an up-tempo, feel-good song with strong Afro-Cuban percussion rhythms. The latter is a haunting ballad about a man who has lost himself in a painful breakup--a perfect vehicle to show off Anthony's technical and emotional range.

The singer's pop album is being co-produced by the ubiquitous Corey Rooney (of Mariah Carey and J. Lo fame), who appears to be playing it safe. For example, on I've Got You--which Columbia, Anthony's pop label, considered using as the single--the rhythms and melody sound like an overprocessed hit from the '80s. And on another track, Anthony duets with teen pop star Jessica Simpson. "We wanted to keep him young and cutting edge," explains Tommy Mottola, chairman of Sony Music (which owns Columbia). Memo to Sony: Simpson is young, but she ain't cutting edge.

Music is only part of Anthony's mainstreaming agenda. He is also an accomplished actor with a proclivity for choosing edgy characters. He has worked for film directors Martin Scorsese (Bringing Out the Dead) and Stanley Tucci (Big Night). He appeared on Broadway in the title role of Paul Simon's short-lived production The Capeman, during which Simon compared Anthony to a young Sinatra.

Watching his understated performance as a waiter in Big Night prompted actress and producer Salma Hayek to cast Anthony in her forthcoming Showtime production of Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies. He plays the small but pivotal role of Lio, a political activist in the Dominican Republic during Trujillo's regime. "When I met him, I knew he was perfect for the role," says Hayek. "Lio, like Marc, has this larger-than-life spirit that can convince you anything is possible." The film was shot in Veracruz, Mexico, with an all-Latin cast and director.

It's 7 o'clock and getting dark. Soon Anthony will have to start laying down vocal tracks. His assistant reminds him that director Spike Lee wants to see him in a dress with his chest and legs shaved. Anthony explains that Lee offered him the part of Angel, a transvestite, in the movie version of Rent. Although Anthony would normally jump at such an opportunity, he will have to decline. He has little free time and prefers to spend it with his family. "I feel comfortable and blessed with who I am," he says. "I'm right where I need to be in life, and my music reflects that."

Right now he is concerned with helping his seven-year-old daughter Arianna slide grape Popsicles out of a plastic mold. Arianna, Anthony's child from a previous relationship with a New York policewoman, spends every other weekend with Dad. She is lithe like her father, with brown hair hanging below her knees. Giving her father a purple-stained kiss on the cheek, she seems oblivious to the messy child-support dispute her parents have been having for more than a year.

Torres, Anthony's wife, has Cristian Antonio in tow, at five months the newest addition to the family. Anthony takes him in his arms and starts dancing. "I'm glad Marc was finally able to balance his career with a family," says mentor and longtime friend Ruben Blades. "At the end of the day, it is the most important thing."

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