Phoenix Theatre production ‘Americano defines the Americano immigration experience’

All his life, three words meant more to him than any others he heard or read before them: honor, courage and commitment.

Although he can’t articulate just exactly why those words shaped his life, Phoenix resident, Dreamer and political operative Tony Valdovinos defies the odds and defines an experience uniquely Mexican-American.

Mr. Valdovinos bleeds red, white and blue.

“By the time I got into high school, I knew I wanted to join the Marine Corps. as my family and I learned very early on I wasn’t the valedictorian student,” he said. “At the time, I was very into weight lifting, and a lot of my life revolved around getting stronger — for me, it was mostly about survival.”

Growing up in south Phoenix, Mr. Valdovinos lived a uniquely American life complete with neighborhood schools, friends and working in the family business.

But Mr. Valdovinos lived a life with a potentially devastating underlying truth: He had reason to believe it was likely he was, in the blind eyes of law enforcement, an undocumented immigrant.

“From the beginning, I never really had the same experiences as others,” he said of the underlying truth of his immigration status.

“My dad was the only one who worked. We struggled our entire lives, but it is how we were raised and, for me, it was very important to be with my father. But I was forced to witness my dad get significantly hurt on the job, at the worksite.”

It was during those hard, laborious hours on construction job sites searching for long-buried utility lines Mr. Valdovinos dreamed of something more.

A story that should be told
Highlighting its 100th anniversary season, the Phoenix Theatre Company, is producing a major American musical, “Americano!” which is an original production written and composed based on the life, struggles and perseverance of Mr. Valdovinos.

The effort to produce an immigration-centered story with the Phoenix Theatre Company has been in the works since April 2015. But it wasn’t until Mr. Valdovinos came into the picture producers felt ready to move forward.

“I think it will be the greatest production I will ever be associated in my entire life — except for two little kids,” said public relations executive Jason Rose, producer of “Americano!”

“In April of 2015 I was at a friend’s wedding, small talking about an idea I had and at the wedding was Michael Barnard,” Mr. Rose recalled of the chance encounter with the artistic producing director of the Phoenix Theatre Company.

“‘Sure pal,’ like a comedian who agrees to hear a joke that isn’t any good, is how I viewed the interaction. But I had an idea and I wrote it, and I registered with the screen actors guild. At the time, the story was more of an ‘Almost Famous’ vibe utilizing music like a jukebox musical.”

For the past 20 years, Mr. Barnard has been the creative artistic director of the critically acclaimed Phoenix Theatre Company.

“We spent about 1.5 years writing, hired a writer out of San Diego and at the time, a well-known local musician was going to do the music,” he said. “And, as these things go, there are several milestones you hit as you produce a work of this magnitude and one of them is a table read. We had one, and while it was good, we all kind of looked at each other and agreed it wasn’t where we wanted it.”

— Jason Rose, Americano! producer

Mr. Rose explains at the onset “Americano!” was a work of fiction.

“I didn’t want to give up, and the theatre didn’t either,” he said when the project was stalled. “I said to everybody, I think we should pivot to a story with a Dreamer. From that point, we called Tony cold and we asked.”

From the second he walks in the door, you can’t help but love the guy, Mr. Rose says of Mr. Valdovinos.

“When we met with Tony, Michael and I looked at each other and knew this is an unbelievable story. From there Michael signed on as director and the rest came down to bending the music around the story.”

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