For one night only during this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, the Mexican-born and NYC-based husband and wife team of Florencia Cuenca and Jaime Lozano returned to Joe’s Pub at The Public with their exciting new concert Broadway en Spanglish. Accompanied by Mariachi Real de Mexico de Ramon Ponce (New York’s foremost mariachi band), the show delivered original interpretations of a selection of seven of musical theater’s most iconic tunes, with Spanglish lyrics (a bilingual hybrid of words and phrases in Spanish and English) by Cuenca and new arrangements and orchestrations by Musical Director Lozano and Jesús Altamira, which captured both the magic of Broadway and the struggles of immigrants learning a new language, set to the authentic sound of their homeland’s distinctive mariachi tradition. It all made for one spectacular and resonant combination.
Playing to a full house of enthusiastic fans, the open and amiable couple introduced the numbers with very personal comments about what the songs mean to them and how they relate to their own immigrant journey from Mexico to New York. Lozano, in mariachi pants gifted to him by a member of the band (which he laughingly acknowledged he was wearing with Converse sneakers!), noted that they represented a synthesis of the two themes they love most – Broadway and Mexican music – with arrangements never done before, in preparation for a new self-produced album (“Why wait for someone else to do it? If you want it done quickly, the way you like it, do it yourself!”).
Cuenca, in her first headliner appearance at the venue, candidly shared her thoughts, background, and feelings with the audience, in both her vocals and her introductory and interspersed comments. She recalled that when they first moved to NYC about six and a half years ago, she felt lost and frustrated, thinking that she would immediately take the Broadway stage; but reality hit, and because they were broke, she was teaching Spanish music classes in far-off neighborhoods, as a new Mom, in a new city, with a new language. Now she is proud to be telling her story as a Mexican immigrant, the way she wants to, through art that helps.
Accompanied by Lozano on guitar, with the band’s Ramon Ponce on vihuela, Mario Ulibarri on guitarrón, Mario Trujillo, Fernando Navarro, and Amadeus Grande on violin, Alejandro Berti and Hugo Moreno on trumpet, Associate Music Director Yahir Montes on guitar, and guest musician Mary Spencer Knapp on accordion, Cuenca brought her expressive delivery, impressive range, and amazing breath control to the couple’s selection of significant songs. Opening with the meaningful dream of being “On Broadway” (music and lyrics by Barry Mann, Cynthia Well, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller), she took us through an array of emotions in the hour-long concert, while making us believe, as Lozano joked, “Spanglish should be an official language in this country.”
From the anger and pain of Hamilton’s “Burn” (music and lyrics by friend, supporter, and colleague Lin-Manuel Miranda) – the first song she released in Spanglish (in an earlier version that was not orchestrated to the mariachi sound) – to the need to “Let It Go” so she could move on with her new life (the smash hit from Frozen, with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson Lopez and Bobby Lopez), to the recognition of what she once was in “She Used to Be Mine” (from Waitress; music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles), Cuenca’s signature approach to heartfelt musical storytelling was engaging and entertaining, as were the rich mariachi rhythms.
In Company’s “Being Alive” (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), for which the mariachi arrangement was just completed a week ago, leaving Lozano to jest, “I hope we rehearsed it enough!” (they did), Cuenca embraced the legendary writer’s ambivalent lyrics and unique melody, concluding with a phenomenal long note; and in “I Miss the Mountains” (from Next to Normal, with music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey), which moved Lozano to tears, she explained that it was a show both she and her husband loved for its unconventional narrative about mental health – adding that it’s a serious issue for which proper care is only available to certain people who can afford it, and observing the value of art in providing compassion and a spotlight.
The show ended on an optimistic high note with the lively and upbeat “Seasons of Love” from librettist, composer, and lyricist Jonathan Larson’s Rent, featuring an exuberant Spanglish duet (“Five hundred twenty-five thousand seiscientos minutes”) and perfect harmonies by Cuenca and special guest singer Mario Tadeo, with Lozano affirming the importance of finding a chosen family you can trust, laugh and cry with, who open their hearts and home to you, so you can survive with pride. Well, it didn’t actually end there. The thunderous applause, cheers, and cries for “más” from the audience resulted in a mariachi encore and singalong to two traditional Mexican favorites, closing with Ponce leading an ebullient rendition of “Cielito Lindo” that (“porque cantando se alegran”) had everyone wishing the night could go on forever; I know I did.
Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, without intermission.
Florencia Cuenca & Jaime Lozano: Broadway in Spanglish played on Monday, October 3, 2022, at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, NYC.