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BWW Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents AMERICANO!

BWW Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents AMERICANO!

There are over 800,000 DREAMers in the United States. Young adults, living daily in uncertainty as to whether their protected status under President Obama's 2017 Executive Order (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) will be upheld in the face of legal challenges by the current Administration. Young "undocumented immigrants," brought to this country, many at a very early age (on average, 6), under circumstances beyond their control, facing the possibility of deportation.

Tony Valdovinos is one of them. Actually, one of us ~ an American at heart. A man whose personal journey is now the focus of AMERICANO! ~ a new musical co-authored with Jonathan Rosenberg and directed by Michael Barnard, The Phoenix Theatre Company's Producing Artistic Director. (The "World Premiere" of the show runs through February 23rd.)

AMERICANO! is an effusive and exuberant celebration of idealism and fortitude as well as a fervent call to action. There is no doubt that this vibrant musical is also political theatre steeped in a sense of urgency about the need to do justice for the DREAMers. (While local politicians were sure to appear in tribute to a point of Phoenix pride, it has yet to be seen whether the power of Tony's story moves them from rhetoric to action.) Yet, the show's inherent political vibes in no way detract from its very human scale and emotional impact.

The drama of Tony's confrontations with political and family realities is heightened by singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez's rich and poignant score and Sergio Mejia's vigorous and muscular choreography. The blend of music and dance is not only infused with the textures and rhythms of Latino culture but it also evokes a sense of unrestrained pride and optimism. Songs like We Pave the Way and Stand Our Ground are as much anthems of a movement as they are powerful declarations of independence.

There are multiple arcs in Tony's journey and a lot to pack into two hours, and Barnard manages to weave each into a seamless tapestry of story-telling.

This production features a superb cast, headlined by Sean Ewing's vibrant and sympathetic portrayal of Tony. From the moment that he and his family watch the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, Ewing breathes a passion and vulnerability into his role that evolves steadily into a profile of courage and Si se puede determination.

Inspired to enlist in the Marines in defense of his country, Tony is thunderstruck to learn that he is ineligible and that his parents (vividly played by Joseph Cannon and Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda) failed to reveal his undocumented status. Meanwhile, Ceci (Alyssa V. Gomez), his one true love, is qualified and deployed to Afghanistan, commencing a touching long-distance exchange of calls.

There's the tug of peer pressure to contend with, but Tony, driven by his scruples, resists the entreaties of a neighborhood friend (Michael Scott Gomez) to join the gang.

There is the act of kindness of an employer (Chris Eriksen) to protect Tony's father and support Tony's aspirations.

There is the activist politician (Justin Figueroa) who reveals a pathway for Tony to make a difference ~ the creation of La Machine as the voice of the voiceless.

All these combine for the narrative of a man whom AMERICANO! rightly upholds as an exemplar of the DREAMers.

While the question regarding the DREAMers' status remains unresolved, theatre offers the opportunity to explore and understand the human dimension of the issue. To this end, the bottom line is that AMERICANO! is an inspired act of conscience. It is a work that speaks to a moment in time when a nation's principles are being challenged. It carries with it an emotional power that is palpable and yet immensely entertaining.

The "World Premiere" of AMERICANO! runs through February 23rd at The Phoenix Theatre Company.

Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography

The Phoenix Theatre Company ~ ~ 602-254-2151 ~ 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ

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