The musical as a political statement is a theatrical tradition. From the work of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill to Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock” to “Hair” and “Hamilton”, these shows harness the power of music and story to move hearts and minds. . They touched on topics ranging from corporate greed to anti-war protests to the founding of our country.
“Americans !” continues this tradition in a powerful way, dramatizing the story of Tony Valdovinos, a young man brought to the United States by his parents at the age of two and who never knew he was not a US citizen until trying to join the Marines. The story chronicles his struggle for recognition and legitimization and his journey to political activism for the benefit of the entire Latinx community.
Although the book by Michael Barnard, Jonathan Rosenberg and Fernanda Santos is very explanatory, the show is nevertheless deeply personal and powerful. It is both telling and compelling to see the challenge facing Valdovinos and others like him who, through no fault of their own, find themselves stripped of a major component of their identity and trapped in a bureaucratic and political nightmare. Where it works strongly is in the depiction of an inclusive community, including the gay dance teacher and people who are, in every sense of the word, dreamers.
Carrie Rodriguez’s score is inspired by various styles of Latin music. From the exuberant to the sincere, it is in the songs that the characters shine and their inner life is most developed. The opening number, set on a construction site, “We Pave the Way” establishes the overriding metaphor of the piece – that bold and courageous visionaries pave the way for those who come after them. Tony may not be a citizen yet, but he fights for others. Moreover, even if the obstacles seem insurmountable, there is reason to celebrate, to sing and, above all, to dance. Sergio Mejia’s choreography is splendid, combining Latin traditions and contemporary athleticism. Barnard also directed the play, and he fills it with energy and passion.
The large, almost entirely Latinx company creates an indelible sense of place and time. Sean Ewing as Tony has an extraordinary voice and portrays the character’s arc – from lost and angry to confident and committed – with strength and grace. As Ceci, Tony’s girlfriend whom he planned to join the Marines with, Legna Cedillo has a brilliant presence, exceptional voice, and clear focus. The chemistry between Tony and Ceci is often electric. Supporting roles include Ryan Reyes as Tony’s brothers; Pablo Torres as Javi, a friend whom Tony protects from gang violence; and Justin Figueroa as Carlos Ledesma, the Arizona Rep who inspires Tony to fight for his vision. As gay dance teacher Joaquin, Lucas Coatney is funny and, just as importantly, he makes a forceful statement about strength in the face of adversity. Versatile set design by Robert Andrew Kovach, costumes by Adriana Diaz, and lighting by Jamie Roderick, all of which contribute to the sense of this world and community.
This production was originally staged by Phoenix Theater in keeping with their mission to promote multicultural awareness and understanding. In the case of “¡Americano!”, they succeeded. It is impossible to watch this spectacle without being moved by those who struggle to circumvent immigration policies and the way they are affected. Creating this understanding in a larger emotional audience is exactly what political theater is all about.
“Americans !” | New World Stages | 540 West 50and Street | Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday 7 p.m.; Fri, Sat 8 p.m.; From Saturday 2 p.m. to June 19 | $49 to $99 | Download.com or 212-239-6200 | 2h30, 1 intermission