Lin-Manuel Miranda described him as the “next best thing on Broadway,” and he is.
Jaime Lozano, a prolific composer, arranger, music director, orchestrator, and director hailing from Monterrey, Mexico, speaks our Latin truth through musical theater. Jaime earned his BFA in music and composition from the School of Music at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León and was the recipient of a full scholarship to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he has the distinction of being the first Mexican to be accepted to and earn an MFA from the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. He is a true representation of our truly talented community members.
After working on the film In The Heights as an orchestrator and a short cameo appearance in the film adaptation of “Tick, Tick… Boom!” he now returns to the stage with his new musical, Desaparecidas, which playing for a limited engagement at Jack in Brooklyn.
Desaparecidas celebrates the individual lives of women in Mexico, highlighting the challenge of embracing cultural customs while fighting for autonomy in a dangerous world of machismo. Georgina Escobar’s book uses Lozano and Florencia Cuenca’s songs to weave together diverse stories of women from the borderlands—specifically, those who have disappeared. From the missing to the socially invisible to the forgotten, the show takes place in a palenque where the audience will experience an “appearance” of the stories of the missing, along with some from the audience picked out of a raffle drum by our narrator, a famous (and deceased) Mexican singer referred to as “La Jenni.”
Latino Rebels spoke to Jaime Lozano about the show and his work.
What was the main inspiration behind Desaparecidas?
Florencia and I come from two strong matriarchal families. Strong and amazing women raised us; they have been our inspiration and our strength. Women are a very important part of my work.
Florencia’s family is originally from Ciudad Juárez, México, a city where being a woman has really been a challenge. Back in the ’90s, that city was seen by the eyes of the world for the very unfortunate reason of its terrible femicides. For this specific show, we felt the responsibility to tell the stories to honor all these women—the Desaparecidas.
But even though this was the genesis of the project, we didn’t want to focus on the death but celebrate the lives, celebrate women and their fight. I am blessed to be an ally telling these stories, and I have been learning a lot from my wife Florencia Cuenca, who has been co-writing lyrics with me and our amazing book writer Georgina Escobar, who is actually from Ciudad Juárez.
We are very passionate about our stories, our people, our community. We love our country, our home México. We only want to own and to tell our stories in the most honest and respectful way, from our hearts. And I strongly believe that by doing it in this way, the audience is going to connect with it is some way.
Why is the narrator a fictionalized Jenni Rivera?
Jenni Rivera is a very famous Mexican-American singer who took a music style usually dominated by men —regional Mexican music, norteño music, corridos, narcocorridos, etc.— and made it hers. But also, her personal life wasn’t easier. Unfortunately, she was also victim of this machista society. We decided to use this strong female figure as our MC or narrator. She is the one putting all the stories together and leading during the evening.
Through the musical’s characters and stories, what solutions, if any, are presented to combat the dangers of machismo?
It would be very pretentious to say a play, or a musical, can give any solutions to any issue. We are telling a story. We are being as honest as we can be.
The songs are based on interviews with women from Ciudad Juárez close to this subject. We are honoring them. We are celebrating them.
There is a line in the show that says: “What is celebrated is never lost. What is remembered never dies.” We tell the story from the bottom of our hearts. And I hope that, in the same way we have learned during the process to be better human beings, the audience can connect with that and be moved by the story and just do our part to be better.
As storytellers, our mission is to tell those stories that need to be heard.
For those who do not know, please explain what is a palenque and what the significance of this setting is in the show.
The show is set in a palenque —a Mexican state fair or rodeo— a place where people from all backgrounds gather to see a show that can include cockfighting and a concert. Ideally it would be performed in a theater-in-the-round, but for this production we have the audience at the sides.
It is a very intimate and kind of immersive show, very influenced by Mexican culture, literature, and music. All the songs are completely in Spanish but for the book, the scenes are in English—and sometimes in Spanglish. It is an experiment.
You have an incredible body of work, mainly focused on the immigrant Mexican experience. What is your primary goal as an artist telling these socially conscious stories?
I believe the first rule for writing should be honesty, so I write about what is close to me—about myself, about my familia, about my paisanos, about my community. It is my responsibility to find space for our stories and our people.
Can I write other kinds of stories? Of course I can. Do I want to do it right now? NO.
I believe in us, and I know that by telling these stories people are gonna feel that they also belong. Representation matters, and we need that in every single field of the arts. I think in musical theatre we are especially very behind with diversity and inclusion. I am grateful for my Latinx writers, composers, directors, artists, etc., before me and also fighting by my side. They had a very difficult path. Thanks to them is a bit easier, but we still have a very long road ahead.
Thanks for helping us and amplifying our voices. We need and deserve to be heard. We are changing the world.
Desaparecidas is a musical with music & lyrics by Jaime Lozano and lyrics by Florencia Cuenca, book by Georgina Escobar, and originally conceived by Jaime Lozano, Florencia Cuenca, and Rachel M. Stevens. Cuenca directs and also stars as La Jenni, with choreography by Gabriela García and music direction by Jhoely Garay.
Friday, December 9 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, December 10 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, December 11 at 2:00 pm
Friday, December 16 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, December 17 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, December 18 at 2:00 pm
Marlena Fitzpatrick is a Puerto Rican activist and entertainment industry professional based in New York. Twitter: @MarlenaFitz