BWW Interview: Jaime Lozano of SONGS BY AN IMMIGRANT at The Green Room 42
Musical Theater composer Jaime Lozano is having a heck of a year. A native of Mexico, the musical prodigy is constantly in demand, working to help others with their music, all the while, composing his own music for cds and for the musical theater. Considered by that dude from HAMILTON to be "the next big thing" in musical theater, Jaime recently debuted a concert of his compositions titled SONGS BY AN IMMIGRANT at Joe's Pub AND at Two River Theater, each time to sold out houses. The evening was so popular that Mr. Lozano was asked to do an encore of the evening at the exciting club The Green Room 42. SONGS BY AN IMMIGRANT is an evening of songs about the experience of being an immigrant living in America, using songs Jaime has written about finding a new home, learning a new language, dealing with discrimination, trying to fit in, and so much more; and the evening is performed by an entirely Latino (or, as Jaime points out, LatinX) cast of performers from Broadway and beyond.
In the days leading up to the concert, I spoke with Jaime about his show and about the future of musical theater... you know, that place where Lin-Manuel Miranda says he belongs?
This interview has been edited for space and content. Please note that Mr. Lozano's English is sometimes grammatically incorrect, but I have not changed the grammar, in an attempt to capture the charm of speaking to him in real life. I only wish everyone could hear his delightful and warm speaking voice in real-time... but they can by going to his show! --- SM
Jaime, your concert SONGS BY AN IMMIGRANT played Joe's Pub in August, right?
JL: Yeah! We played Joe's Pub and we put together a group of Broadway, off-Broadway, all Latino performers or, like they say nowadays, LatinX performers. And it was great because we were all LatinX performers and musicians, and all the songs were about my immigrant experience. So it was really an honor to have all these amazing performers singing my stories, we had various prices so we had a sold-out crowd! Everyone was really happy and now we're having our Green Room 42 Debut!
How did that feel for you to have a surprise sold-out crowd?
JL: It was amazing to know that there are people interested to listen to these stories! You know, as an immigrant myself, as a Mexican... I feel a responsibility about telling my stories. They are great because writers... American musical theater writers, they tell their own stories. So I shouldn't tell the same story the other American writers write about. So it's my concern.. what I decided to do is just talk about my own stories. I wrote the stories about my people, my country, all my struggling to get to the States, you know, the struggle in dealing with two languages, as you can hear, to take you right now! Dealing with two different countries, with people from different places. Now, having my three-year-old son growing up, listening and speaking these two languages. So those are the stories that I want to tell. And so knowing that there are people interested to listen to those stories. It just made me feel like I would maybe feel like a greater responsibility about what I'm telling.
How many songs are there in the show?
JL: We're singing around 16 songs.
Were these 16 songs created as a song cycle or are they just songs that you had written that you put together for this show?
JL: There's a few songs from other shows that I already have. I have one show called Children of Salt that was at the new musical festival in 2016-- we have a couple of songs from that show. So I about another show that is premiering next year in Florida and we have a couple of songs from that musical. We have a couple of songs from different musicals, and I'm also at work on my new album - all the songs in that album about the immigrant experience. We are performing a couple of songs from that album as well.
Is it difficult taking songs that were not created to go together and deciding what to use, what order they should go in, and how they can best tell the story you wish to tell
JL: The good thing about these songs is that in some way they have a similar subject. You know, all the songs are from shows that talk about this immigrant experience. So we have a song for example, about missing your country. We have another show and another song about a love interest and being away from her. That's from another saw but what ever show it is, it is related in some way with this immigrant experience. So that helps a lot to create the arc of the story with all the songs together. And we have so many performers. We have nine performers! Every one of them is in two songs. It's not boring, with the same person singing. It's not myself singing all the songs, you know. So one of the things that I love the most about this concert is that we have these great Latino performers from different shows, and it's that collaboration with each one of them. I'm learning from them, they're learning from me. I'm trying to break some barriers. Now with these different performers, it makes it fun. This is like a different perspective of the song.
Is it the same cast that was at Joe's Pub?
JL: A few of them are the same, but we have some new guests, yeah.
When you bring the show to The Green Room 42, have you made any changes? Anything new that we should look for?
JL: I think it started with, we have new people. We have Mauricio Martinez from On Your Feet is repeating, he was with me at Joe's Pub concert as well. My wife Florencia Cuenca, she's repeating as well from Joe's Pub. But one, two, three, four, five performers are new for this concert! What you saw that we did already at Joe's Pub... what I love about this is that every song becomes different, you know, everyone is bringing their own experiences. So it's like a very different version of each song.
Is there a chance that Songs By An Immigrant could be adapted into a show that could be recreated at other theaters or performing arts organizations that are interested in presenting these songs?
JL: Yeah, actually we already have people... Interestingly, we already have... Joe's Pub asked for next year for doing this show. We have an invitation to do the show in London as well. So we're talking about bringing the show to London. You see, there are Latino performers that live there on the other at the other side of the pond! What I do... I host a night and I talk about my personal experiences for every song. So, think of a personal show... I like to improvise in the moment, where I'm gonna say, depending, you know, on who's in the audience, depending on what's the reaction of the people, like playing around with my performers... So there's not like, an actual script, like the next show, is not the same every time. That's one of the things that I love about the show, that it's gonna be really, really different, every time that we do it. It's gonna be completely different depending on who is in the audience and who is singing. Hopefully, I'm writing new songs for this album that I have to bring a, I have to perform in the upcoming shows. So I'm very excited to share all the songs.
What is the audience takeaway that you wish for when producing this concert?
JL: It's hard to be an immigrant in this country. Even... I have been very lucky to find great people who have always supported me as an artist, as a friend... people have opened their doors for me. I have to tell you this thing about struggling with the language, with this struggling in the middle of two cultures, in being different... Sometimes I want to say hi to someone, I want to go to hug someone, and they walk away because they feel weird with someone hugging. I mean that's a part of Latino culture and traditions, or like Latino customs, that when you are dealing with all that in a new country, it's really hard. It's really hard to make it in this country and so when I hug people it is to show that we are all different and at the end, we are all the same. And I know that in the same way that I'm feeling at home now with the States, I hope people can feel at home just talking with me. Home is not about a place, an actual place, home is about the people you are around, home is about the people you have in your heart. So I hope that people in the audience who come to the concert, that they can feel like they are at home when they are in the show.
I've heard that Mr. Miranda says that you're the next big thing for Broadway. How did it feel hearing him say that?
JL: Oh, okay. That feels just great. It feels wonderful. I had the pleasure of knowing Lin-Manuel for many years now, like around more than 10 years I think. So, he mentioned my name a few times, a few years ago, in a couple of interviews, when they've asked him about who is going to be the next big thing on Broadway. And I was very, very lucky that he mentioned my name. I mean, because he mentioned my name among other great writers, and to know that there's people who appreciate my work... you know, something, I am my biggest critic. I feel that we are really hard with ourselves, and knowing that there are people out there like Lin-Manuel that appreciate in my work just made me feel like I need to keep telling the story. It's an obligation or responsibility and I fell in love with my country, with my community, with musical theater, with the audience. And so I just feel really lucky to have the support with all these amazing people like Lin-Manuel.
So do you have a musical ready for Broadway?
JL: I have a few musicals that I have in development. I told you I'm opening a new show down in Florida next year that we already have had two or three workshops in the city, so hopefully the show maybe we can come to New York later. And I am working on three or four more shows, some of them are getting noticed by producers. But, now the only thing that I want is people to listen to my stories. Right now it's in The Green Room 42 and that's great. If tomorrow it's going to be in a Broadway Theater or in a subway station or Carnegie Hall... I mean the venue is not important. What matters is the feelings that connect with the people and that people listen to the story that I want to tell.
SONGS BY AN IMMIGRANT plays The Green Room 42 on November 24 at 9:30 pm. For information and tickets please visit The Green Room 42 Website