Dorothy’s fantastical journey down the Yellow Brick Road to find her way home in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is perhaps one of the most quintessentially American stories. “Somewhere Over the Border,” a new musical currently premiering at Teatro Vista, cleverly transforms this beloved tale into a different kind of American story: that of a young Salvadoran woman making the dangerous journey to the United States. United to build a better life in a new home.
Brian Quijada, who wrote the book, lyrics, music and stars as narrator, was inspired by his mother’s experience of immigrating to the United States in the 1970s. Heartwarming and poignant, his work challenges the idea of the American Dream while honoring those who sacrifice everything to pursue it and acknowledging the grief of family members who live thousands of miles apart.
American discourse on the subject of immigration is too often dehumanizing, whether through racist language or bad faith arguments such as the recent misleading claims that migrant children take priority over citizens in the current shortage. of formula milk. The beauty and necessity of works like “Somewhere Over the Border” lies in their power to draw audiences into a personal story, to move them emotionally, and to explore the complexity of human experience in a way that political headlines can’t capture.
Quijada’s musical, directed by Denise Yvette Serna, centers on 17-year-old Reina (the charming Gabriela Moscoso), new mother of a baby boy, Fernando. Living in Chanmico, El Salvador with his older brother (Tommy Rivera-Vega) and their single mother, Julia (Claudia Quesada), it becomes increasingly difficult to make ends meet as civil unrest descends on the country and war is looming. When a neighbor returns from visiting his daughter’s family and tells Reina about their happy life in California, she begins to dream of making it to the United States on her own.
Reina boards a northbound bus and leaves her infant son, for whom the journey is too dangerous, in the care of his unsuspecting mother, intending to return for him as soon as possible. During her journey through Guatemala and Mexico, she meets three new friends who come up with hilarious and new versions of Dorothy’s famous sidekicks.
Cruz (Tommy Rivera-Vega), limber and mild-tempered, is a banana farmer who aspires to earn a degree in agricultural science. Silvano (Andrés Enriquez), the owner of a ramshackle inn that his wife and kids left him to move to America, spends his days drinking to numb his broken heart. Leona (Amanda Raquel Martinez), a Catholic nun, dreams of becoming a rock star but never had the courage to leave the convent. This unlikely foursome team up to find the wizard figure – in this version, a notorious human smuggler called El Gran Coyote de Tijuana – who arranges for them to cross the border after a terrifying journey through the desert on foot. .
Meanwhile, in El Salvador, Julia cares for her young grandson and prays to God to bring her daughter home safely. (The influence of Catholicism in Central America is mentioned several times.) As Reina struggles to get by doing odd jobs in her new country, Julia’s storyline exposes another frayed side of the American dream: for every dreamer who leaves for a better life, his loved ones are left to hold things together at home.
The cast members, all talented singers, bring passion and pathos to Quijada’s lively score, which draws on influences ranging from cumbia and Mexican mariachi boleros to American rock and hip hop. A three-piece band, joined by the composer on guitar and vocals, plays center stage throughout. I suspect most viewers found themselves tapping their feet to the music or swaying to Kasey Alfonso’s engaging choreography.
Quijada’s lyrics are also very effective, giving the characters an appealing emotional openness. In the first number and its repeat at the end, the lyrics emphasize the importance of telling the stories of “ordinary extraordinary people” like Reina. This song also points out that anyone, anywhere could be forcibly displaced or feel the need to emigrate one day. Civil unrest and war can occur at the most unexpected times and places, as global news reminds us daily.
This argument against immigrant otherness establishes one of the musical’s most compelling themes: that Reina’s story is both specific and universal. Although based on the real-life experiences of Quijada’s mother, her messages of hope, sacrifice and family are very close. The politics are less explicit than you might expect in a show about immigration; Quijada’s writing is rarely didactic. A gifted storyteller, it focuses on human drama while retaining the magical qualities of Baum’s classic novel – a winning combination that proves deeply moving.
Review: “Somewhere Beyond the Border”
When: Until June 12
Where: Teatro Vista at Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Rd.
Tickets: $15 to $49.50 at teatrovista.org