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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - May 1, 2022

Sean Ewing, Justin Figueroa, and Cast
Photo by Maria Baranova
Is there such a thing as aggressive optimism? Because that is what came to mind while I was in the audience of ¡Americano!, opening tonight at the New World Stages in a whirlwind of bursting-at-the-seams plot, high-powered music and dance, and a message of grass-roots political activism.

The last of these, political activism, lies at the core of ¡Americano!. The musical (book by Michael Barnard, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Fernanda Santos; music and lyrics by Carrie Rodriguez) was inspired by the real-life story of Tony Valdovinos, founder of La Machine, an Arizona-based firm that works to get potential voters to the polls.

Valdovinos himself is represented as the show's central character, Tony (Sean Ewing), a young man who discovers only at the age of 18 that he is not a citizen of the United States and therefore cannot fulfill his ambition of enlisting in the Marines. He and many of his peers are "Dreamers," under the temporary protection of DACA, the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program first instituted under the Obama administration and which still stands, albeit on wobbly legs in the gladiator pit of American politics. The show follows Tony's story from his initial dispiriting discovery, through family rifts and personal heartbreak to his community activism as he joins the campaign of a congressional candidate (Justin Figueroa).

Over the course of the production, directed at a breakneck pace by Michael Barnard, we get to spend bits of time with Tony's overbearing father Martin (Alex Paez), his doting mother Felicita (Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda), his dorky brother Fro (Ryan Reyes), Fro's new and equally dorky girlfriend Jessica (Carolina Miranda), and Tony's girlfriend Ceci (Legna Cedillo), plus other members of the community too numerous to mention. All told, there is a cast of 15 playing 18 named characters, all having their own piece of the story to tell, with others on hand to augment the ensemble. There is, as you might imagine, a lot of ground to cover in a little over two-and-a-half hours, which leads to what amounts to a hasty slideshow of a narrative.

Musically, there are 22 numbers, many of which draw from the country/country-rock roots of composer Carrie Rodriguez, who hails from Austin, Texas. Legna Cedillo as the indomitable Ceci is best able to find the heart of these songs without getting all bound up in their repetitive 2/4, 6/8, and 3/4 rhythms and straightforward, down-to-earth lyrics. The music does gain a great assist from Sergio Mendoza's Latino-inspired orchestrations and by the production's eight excellent musicians, along with the vigorous choreography by Sergio Mejia. The design elements are quite impressive for an Off-Broadway production, from Robert Andrew Kovach's Southwestern-inspired set design complete with saguaro cactus and clay-tiled roofs, to Adriana Diaz's multiple and often-colorful costumes, to Jamie Roderick's busy display of lighting.

All told, ¡Americano! is a personal story that becomes increasingly insistent on being seen and heard, like a petitioner who collars you on your way to work. It would be hard to find a more enthusiastic cast crying out for attention. But, if as the extensiveness of its creative elements suggests, this show has an eye on a Broadway transfer, it would help oodles to simplify pretty much everything, from the multiple plot elements which introduce and then dismiss far too many characters and situations, to the too-many songs and dance numbers that fill the stage. As a teacher friend used to say to her students: "you don't have to scream in my face, honey!"

June 19, 2022
New World Stages / Stage 3, 340 West 50th Street Between 8th and 9th Avenues
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