A scene from ¡Americano!
Photo: Maria Baranova
A Review by Deirdre Donovan
Every once in a while, a show comes along that dovetails perfectly with
one of the hot-button topics in the news. The
new musical ¡Americano! at New World Stages is the latest instance
of this, based on the real-life story of DREAMer Tony
Valdovinos. It highlights his trials of living in America under
the DACA policy and his aspirations to make the DREAM Act a
law. Directed by Michael Barnard, this theatrical piece
can open one’s eyes to the slippery slope that undocumented
immigrants tread and how difficult it is to be a DREAMer today.
You would have to have ice running through your veins not to feel for
its protagonist, Tony Valdovinos, on the cusp of his
18th birthday. Growing up, he was inspired by 9/11 to
serve his country and join the Marines. The problem is that there was
a skeleton in his family closet that he had yet to confront, and
his parents intentionally kept from him. To wit, his
parents were illegal immigrants from Mexico and had brought him to
this country when he was only 2 years old. He sadly learns the
truth when he walked into a Marines recruitment office to enlist for
service—and they turn him away as an undocumented immigrant.
Sean Ewing in ¡Americano!
Photo: Maria Baranova
What’s “right” with this musical is the earnestness that comes across in
spades with its dynamic
principal character. No question Tony’s brave journey to
discover a path to citizenship is worth following, and his gradual
evolution from naïve bewilderment, to anger, to political activism is far
better than sitting through a dry civics lesson in a high school
classroom. Indeed, ¡Americano! presents the truth of
our times in three-dimensions on stage rather than in a
media sound-byte or headline blurb.
If the heart of this musical is in the “right” place, what’s “wrong” with
it is that its three subplots (Tony’s friendship/romance with Ceci;
his alienation from his family; the domestic violence suffered by a
young neighbor named Javi) pull in too many directions at once.
Although yours truly is no show doctor, the less-is-more philosophy is
often the best remedy to follow when the main plot is meaty on its own.
In all fairness, it is extremely difficult to create a satisfactory
musical that seriously deals with the complexities of a contemporary
subject like DACA and the DREAM Act. Take the
musicals Suffs or Hamilton. Indeed, both works wrestle
with the big questions of their day, whether it’s concerning
women’s’ right to vote or a young immigrant’s political career that
thrusts him into the political limelight of shaping the fledgling
American government and its idea of democracy. Indeed, the
characters that inhabit these musicals arrive on stage with the
patina of history intact. Not so, with Tony
Valdovinos. In short, he’s still a work-in-progress.
When it comes to the acting, Sean Ewing performance as Tony is, hands
down, a star turn. He grabs the proverbial bull by
the horns and breathes vibrant life into his young
DREAMer. Kudos also belong to Johanna Carlisle-Zeppeda, who
plays Tony’s mother, Felicitas Valdovinos. Carlisle-Zeppeda brings
true emotional depth to this maternal character and portrays the
angst of a woman who’s caught between a rock and a hard place in
America. The rest of the acting ensemble are serviceable in their
parts, with nobody outshining Ewing and Carlisle-Zeppeda.
Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda in ¡Americano!
Photo: Maria Baranova
The creative team is, if not offering the audience any over-the-top
special effects in synch with each other. Robert
Andrew Kovach’s multiple sets, complemented by Jamie Rodericks’ protean
lighting, are remarkable for how they can transmogrify into various shapes
and dimensions in nearly a wink: a construction site, a domestic interior,
a school gymnasium, and more. Carrie Rodriguez’ music and lyrics are
a glove-in-hand fit for Michael Barnard’s book. But,
truth be told, the musical is sorely lacking an eleven o’clock
number, which could give the production some added oomph.
Sergio Mejia’s choreography, accented by Adriana Diaz’ costumes, is
appropriately in a Latin key, with the ensemble numbers, at their
best, offering some real sizzle.
Americano!, which premiered at
Arizona’s The Phoenix Theatre Company in 2020,
is a musical that will appeal to those who have a passion for protecting
human rights. It doesn’t bring any clear-cut answers
to the current dilemma of DREAMers. But it can bring hope—and
illuminate you on what is going on with the DREAM Act in some
important political circles in Washington today.
If ¡Americano!, while having some theatrical flaws, succeeds in being
riveting, it proves what a modern-day American hero can do for a
Through June 19th.
At New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, Mid-town Manhattan.
For tickets, visit www.Telecharge.com, (212)
Running time: 2 hours; 30 minutes with one intermission.