There’s an essential human story being told at New World Stages. ¡Americano! — an ambitious new musical with a book by Michael Barard, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Fernanda Santos, and music and lyrics by Carrie Rodriguez — thrusts the emotional tale of a teenage “Dreamer” to the front lines of the Off-Broadway theatre. At its core, this musical, also directed by Barnard, strives to share one man’s fight for his place in America. However, when the production tries to handle too much, its fixed lens shifts out of focus.
What if you have grown up as an American, identify as an American, and have had no or very little connection to the “foreign” country where you were born? Even though you spent most of your life here, attended schools, made friends, and put down roots, under US immigration law you are considered an undocumented immigrant. That’s the gist of the true story of Tony Valdovinos (Sean Ewing), a Phoenix, Arizona resident who yearned to become a US Marine. After being shaken by the 9/11 attacks, Tony longed to fight for and protect his country — America.
So, on Tony’s 18th birthday, he moves to enlist, only to find out he’s not allowed to because he is unknowingly Mexican-born without a Social Security number. It's the case for many young “dreamers” who are under the temporary protection of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program first instituted under the Obama administration in 2012, but as of today has yet to be considered law.
The cast is robust, and the chorus-like company arrive on stage rocking from Act I. ¡Americano!’s opening number, “We Pave The Way,” performed by the musical’s full company in a charming community outfitted by set designer Robert Andrew Kovach, pumps and beats impeccably to the Latin-inspired orchestrations by Sergio Mendoza. Some of the best vocal talent off Broadway is cast in this moving production, and Sergio Mejia's vigorous choreography is a spectacle one should witness in person.
However, ¡Americano! seems to have too much story to tell. Over the course of two and a half hours, we spend time with 18 different characters, including Tony's controlling father Martin (Alex Paez), his devoted mother Felicitas (Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda), his charming girlfriend Ceci (Legna Cedillo), his nerdy brother Fro (Ryan Reyes), Fro's equally nerdy girlfriend Jessica (Carolina Miranda), and a slew of other characters who don’t add much value to Tony’s enthralling story.
Early on, the audience is introduced to a hardcore gang member, Dante García (Alessandro J. Lopez), who becomes the antagonist, but whose storyline never develops into the second act. It feels like a rushed and unnecessary idea to add a villain. The musical remains at its best when it continues to be cohesive in melody and sticks to a streamlined focus on Tony’s important history.
Tony’s powerful story of immigration and aspirations to become a Marine alone elicits necessary conversation. On stage ¡Americano! feels like a trial run for a show still in development. But even with numerous storylines, the making of a dance-heavy, vocally moving story of one person’s dream as a Dreamer deserves to be told.
Photo credit: Sean Ewing, Justin Figueroa, and the company of ¡Americano! (Photo by Maria Baranova)