Painful memories recently played out in front of Tony Valdovinos on a New York City stage. It was one of the first times he watched a portrayal of the moment he was rejected by the Marines at the same time he found out he wasn’t a United States citizen.
Valdovinos had needed to walk out of prior performances. This time was different. He was ready to face the show, however deep it cut into his reality over the past 10 years.
“¡Americano!,” an Arizona-born musical that tells Valdovino’s powerful story, was preparing for its off-Broadway run.
That performance was his first time watching the show in New York. It was also his last. “Too painful,” Valdovinos said but the significance of what was happening was beautiful.
“It’s a miracle we are here,” Valdovinos said.
‘¡Americano!’ opens off-Broadway May 1
On May 1, “¡Americano!” begins its run at New World Stages in New York City. The theater has 499 seats, one short of the 500-seats required to be a Broadway theater.
The show will run until June 19 with hopes of taking the show to the next level: Broadway.
Directed by Phoenix Theatre Company artistic director Michael Barnard and produced and conceived by entrepreneur Jason Rose, “¡Americano!” is the first Arizona-born musical to make it to an off-Broadway stage.
“It is a beautiful, exhilarating, crazy, dynamic, frustrating, fulfilling roller coaster ride,” Rose said. “There is nothing like it you could ever imagine of this congress of creatives coming together to try to do something great for Arizona and do something great on one of the biggest stages in the world.”
More than 6,000 people have seen the show in New York since it started previews on March 31, Rose said.
How ‘¡Americano!’ made it to New York City
It was 2008 when Valdovinos learned that he was undocumented when he tried to enlist in the Marines on his 18th birthday.
That moment started his journey to fight for immigration rights.
Since his rejection, Valdovinos has gotten involved in political efforts. He worked to help get former Marine Ruben Gallego elected to Congress in 2015.
Now the president of La Machine, a political operation firm, Valdovinos is campaigning for Gallego’s reelection and fighting for Latino rights across the country.
After some 70 script revisions, “¡Americano!” premiered at Phoenix Theatre Company on Jan. 29, 2020. The show set box office records for an original musical during its 4-week run, concluding with 10 straight sell-out shows.
The COVID-19 pandemic put previous plans to bring “¡Americano!” to New York on pause, but now it’s ready to premiere at New World Stages with the help of Chicanos Por La Causa. The non-profit organization — which has served more than 2.1 million people from the Hispanic community — donated $1.75 million of the $3 million needed to fund the show after representatives saw the show in New York City during one of the musical’s workshops.
The mission of “¡Americano!” — to share the struggles of Dreamers across the United States — aligned with the mission of CPLC, David Adame, president and CEO of the organization, said in an interview on Feb. 15.
“When I heard the details of the story, I said that plays out every day,” Adame said. “We need other communities to understand our journey and our story. To understand and not listen to some of the negative rhetoric that goes out there. If this thing is successful, could we have bought a greater platform to tell our community story on a national stage? The short answer is obvious. No.”
How the cast has been working in New York
Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda, who plays Valdovino’s mother in the show, is one of six cast members who have been involved since the first script readings in 2015.
Theater has been her calling since she was 6, which is why she left her career in software engineering after nearly 20 years to pursue acting full time. Carlisle-Zepeda works as a bartender on the side now.
She said she cried for about an hour when she got her first chance to perform in a New York musical.
“I was like, ’This is unbelievable,'” Carlisle-Zepeda said. “It was surreal because New York City has always been a goal. I’ve done readings of plays here, but I never have performed like this. I wake up every morning and I’m still in shock that I’m in New York City. If this goes on to Broadway, that’s going to become the biggest thing that happens to me in my life. I’m looking at the pinnacle of my career.”
The entire cast and crew has been preparing for the show since March 1 in New York, Barnard said. Valdovinos arrived in New York early April and will stay through the end of June. Rose has traveled back and forth to New York three times in the last three weeks.
The 18-person cast — 95% Latino and 5% Afro-Latino — has practiced six days a week for the last two months. Since March 31, they have performed 23 preview performances.
From countless script changes to losing eight cast members for 10 days due to COVID-19, the road to opening night has been long and hard. But every moment of the journey has been worth it, Rose said.
The script will freeze after May 1, which means it can no longer change as it has more than 80 times in the last 7 years.
“It was a risk to make the show and the story as tight and as good as possible,” Rose said. “But we did. We were probably more aggressive than most shows in doing that. We had some great counsel from Broadway legends and as a result, the show is as good as it’s ever been.”
What opening night means for ‘¡Americano!’
On opening night on critics will begin to review the show, Rose said. It is the biggest date for ¡Americano’s! Journey.
The night marks the start of the climb to the top of the mountain, Rose said. The climb to Broadway.
“The path forward is going to depend on more marketplace action,” Rose said. “It’s a very crowded time on the Broadway schedule right now. A lot of shows are opening. A lot of shows are closing. If we are given the opportunity to go down the street to Broadway, we will be raising $10 million dollars more than our already $3 million investment.”
“But there’s no story like this at all,” Rose continued. “It’s a true story. That difference is our strength and we want this to continue on. We know it’s resonating, but to get to that next stage, you don’t have to just open a door, you have to kick it down and say, ‘we are here, we will do you proud, and this is a story for this time and all time.’”
How to see ‘¡Americano!’ in New York
Details: May 1 through June 19. New World Stages, 340 W 50th St, New York, NY. telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Americano/Ticket
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