Tony award nominee Robin de Jesús will be starring in AZUL, a new musical inspired by Ruben Dario's short story "El Pájaro Azul." The musical explores the life of an immigrant artist in New York City and how memory and imagination shape immigrant identity. To the writers, it is primarily centered on what it means to be American.
Set in a world of magic realism, AZUL tells the story of Blue Bird, an ambitious poet seeking a better life in a new land. It also follows Rita, a composer struggling to write her debut album about a motherland she has never known. The musical weaves these two distinct worlds together and explores how generational stories shape immigrant identity.
A New Take on the Immigrant Experience
The U.S. has always been a nation of immigrants, and the country’s history is deeply intertwined with the stories of those who have come here from abroad. According to PewResearch, nearly 40 million people living in the U.S. are foreignborn, making up about 13 percent of the population.
Movies like "Roma", "The Farewell", or "The Half of It" are some of the few that have brought immigrant stories to the mainstream. Despite being a musical, people are expecting AZUL to be just as powerful and to bring a universal message to the stage. Here are the factors that make this show distinct:
a. A new way to deliver the message
Movies and podcasts almost always come first to our minds when talking about any kind of story indeed. AZUL will have a brand new way of telling the immigration story. Unlike the way movies usually tell stories, which is by showing the audience what is happening, AZUL will be using music and movement to do the same. For a message like the immigrant experience, a musical can bring a new level of depth and understanding. It can bring the audience closer to the story, while also showing the richness of the culture.
b. Innovative Plot
AZUL’s immigrant story comes with a "twist". Unlike in most cases, the immigrant is not escaping poverty or fleeing a war or a dictator. The immigrant is rather an artist, adding nuance and specificity to a more silenced version of the Latin American experience. This is a great opportunity to explore a different perspective on the immigrant experience, and perhaps more relatable to those that have come to the US in search of any sort/form of artistic opportunities.
c. Bridging the gaps in language
Using both Spanish and English was a challenge for the writers, but it was essential in highlighting the importance of cultural heritage throughout the show. Writing a bilingual book required two separate individuals for the book and three for the lyrics to ensure a translatable, cohesive story between two worlds and a good balance between them. The creators say: “AZUL is set apart because it tells the story of Latin American immigrants using Spanish, Spanglish, and English to accurately represent the linguistic experiences of the characters as they journey to the United States.”
Character Perspectives from Two Generations
The challenges you face as an immigrant are much different, both in number and kind, than what some of the older generations did. For one simple example, with the rise of technology, very few immigrants face communication difficulties today. Recognizing the differences between generations, AZUL provides a platform for dialogue and understanding, ultimately leading to a greater appreciation and celebration of the rich and diverse cultures that make up America. This is pretty much the explanation for all the hype surrounding this show.
In AZUL, the two protagonists provide contrasting viewpoints on the immigrant experience. Blue Bird, who immigrated to New York City in the 1920s, represents the hardships and struggles faced by immigrants in the past. Rita, on the other hand, represents the new generation of immigrants, facing their own unique set of obstacles.
Here's what the writers say: “AZUL is a story about being independent but forever interconnected with your parents. It offers both generations’ perspectives, so the ideal audience member is someone in their 20s to 40s who is transitioning from being primarily someone’s kid to an independent adult.”
Portrait of Latino Mother and Daughter | Gettyimages
“Stories should be allowed to change. There are different versions of every story, especially those that involve you and your origins. Many people make up one narrative, and no one can be bound to one story or language. We all contain multitudes. Imagination can both be escapism and a coping mechanism: a way to forgive yourself and those around you. What causes us grief can also give us great joy, and we must learn to sit in the in-between,” say the creators, Melis Aker, Jacinta Clusellas, and Tatiana Pandiani.
What to expect from AZUL?
In general, Latin American folklore is often overlooked in musical theatre. For example, Latino characters are often portrayed as stereotypes or are underrepresented in the cast. In fact, Latino roles are frequently played by non-Latinos. AZUL is expected to rectify all this to an extent. We'll have to wait until the EP Release Concert on March 23rd to truly see the Latin American folklore come to life. The promises of the quality talent and production team alone make it a show not to be missed.
AZUL's EP Release Concert is taking place on March 23rd at 54 Below. Joining Robin de Jesús are Mandy Gonzalez, Katerina McCrimmon, Robi Hager, and many more alike. The concert will celebrate the release of a full-cast EP with arrangements and orchestrations by Tony and Grammy Award winner Alex Lacamoire and vocal arrangements by Kurt Crowley.