Off-Broadway Review: ¡AMERICANO! (New World Stages)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on May 5, 2022

in Theater-New York

AS ¡AMERICANO! AS APPLE PIE

The Merriam-Webster dictionary (remember dictionaries?) lists two definitions for the word dreamer. The first is simply “one that dreams.” The second definition is “a person living in the United States without legal status who arrived as the child of someone who did not have the documentation required for legal entry or residence.” These two definitions are equally weaved into the toe-tapping, upbeat, patriotic and Disney-influenced new musical ¡Americano!, currently playing at New World Stages. With a book by Michael Barnard, Jonathan Rosenberg and Fernanda Santos, music and lyrics by Carrie Rodriguez, additional lyrics by Michael Barnard and Jonathan Rosenberg and directed by Michael Barnard – the show’s creative team pose the question “What if you were a dreamer and didn’t know it?” Based on the life of Arizona immigrant activist Tony Valdovinos, this Up With People-ish show answers that question in comical, entertaining and puzzling ways.

Sean Ewing, Justin Figueroa and company in ¡AMERICANO!

The fresh-faced, eighteen-year-old Tony (a mesmerizing Sean Ewing) is an Arizona teen that works for his father in construction. He has a sixteen-year-old, intellectual brother (a funny and touching Ryan Reyes) somehow nicknamed “Fro,” even though he doesn’t wear one. He also has a best friend named Ceci who equally dreams of joining the Corps (an endearing Legna Cedillo). Tony was raised by a loving but no-nonsense mother Felicitas (the show-stopping Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda) and a loving but strict father (the impressive Alex Paez).

Alex Paez

9/11 happened when Tony was a young child and, ever since, he’s dreamed of becoming a marine and defending his country, the United States. He’s also a very nice guy if sometimes a little dense. For instance, he’s blind to the fact that his pal Ceci is in love with him. And nice guy that he is, Tony also looks out for his teenage friend Javi, a troubled young man who frequently gets beaten up (a moving Pablo Torres). Through no fault of his own, Tony is completely unaware of his own immigration status and is devastated to learn the truth. Though still in his teens, he eventually turns his understandable anger into motivation to move forward. And in a welcome twist, the heterosexual Tony receives ample support in turning his life around from his new, gay best friend, the dance instructor Joaquin (a solid Lucas Coatney).

Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda

The program notes state that Michael Barnard, the show’s co-author and director, had a nine-year tenure at The Walt Disney Company, partly as a senior show director. And it shows. The production has the relentlessly appealing quality of a Disney stage show – the bad people aren’t too bad, the good people are single-mindedly good, nothing hits too deep and the ensemble is full of beautiful, young, talented performers with smiles that could be seen from Mars. While Theater #3 at New World Stages is a fairly large house, this production feels shoe-horned into this location. First, there’s the upstage, semi-circular and cluttered scenic design by Robert Andrew Kovach, and the prodigious use of overhead spots to help locate the principals in Jamie Roderick’s none too subtle lighting. Combined with the obvious mic placement on every performers head to the actors’ focus that often feels beyond the back wall – this production begs to be seen at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park or any open-air space of similar design.

Juan Luis Espinal, Megan Elyse Fulmer and Lannie Rubio

In the first act, the book does a good job of plotting Tony’s life and how he discovers his tenuous immigration status. Though feeling a bit like a 40s-era Hollywood war movie designed to drum up patriotic support, the book is effective nonetheless. It also masterfully sets up four other sub-plots that contribute to Tony’s overall story. The second act, however, plays more like a public service announcement to promote how American those with dreamer status actually are – equating citizenship worthiness with support for the military. The closing number, “El American Dream,” is a rousing anthem that happily puts too fine a point on the matter. With the entire cast spaced across the stage, what becomes very conspicuous is the predominance of fair-skinned and possibly white-passing Latin performers in the company. So is the idea that in order to be worthy of American citizenship, one must not only look the part of a “real” American but also be willing to die for the country? Even in the face of Draconian immigration policies and racist treatment?

A scene from ¡AMERICANO!

Confusing messaging aside, the music team fills the show with a variety of wonderful songs. Including styles from a mix of Latin traditions, this is a soundtrack worth having. Choreography by Sergio Mejia is varied and exciting, running the gamut from Broadway jazz to traditional Mexican dance styles. His marine dance number is especially noteworthy.

A scene from ¡AMERICANO!

The ensemble and principle performers are excellent across the board. Sean Ewing is a star and, hopefully, the Broadway community will soon recognize his leading man appeal. Though a bit mature for this role, Mr. Ewing overcomes that obstacle with sheer stage presence and magnetism. Plus, he possesses a boatload of talent and a soaring singing voice. Ingénue Legna Cedillo is beautiful, has a gorgeous singing voice and does well in both comedic and dramatic scenes. Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda is a performing dynamo; knocking it out of the park with every moment she has onstage, large or small. Her performance of the song “We Could Go This Way,” a heartfelt encapsulation of an immigrant experience, is one of the show’s highlights. On paper, the gay-best-friend role of Joaquin borders on trafficking in offensive stereotypes. However, in the hands of excellent actor Lucas Coatney, Joaquin is a full human being that we laugh with, not at.

Legna Cedillo and Sean Ewing

¡Americano! is an earnest, if wide-eyed, telling of Tony Valdovinos’s experience as a dreamer. There is much to enjoy here including its wonderful score. The show could certainly use some editing and shaping. However, if you’re looking to enjoy a slew of excellent performers doing what they do best for an important cause – this is your ticket.

A scene from ¡AMERICANO!

photos by Maria Baranova

Sean Ewing

¡Americano!
presented by Quixote Productions in association with Chicanos Por La Cause
New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street
ends on June 19, 2022
for tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or visit Telecharge
for more info, visit ¡Americano!

Lucas Coatney, Lannie Rubio and Henry Julián Gendron

{ 1 comment }

Cris May 6, 2022 at 10:11 pm

Thanks for the ¡AMERICANO! review. The show sounds ¡GREAT!

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