By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
When you’ve been called “the next big thing” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, had your music featured in the same month at Mauricio Martinez’s acclaimed 54 Below show and as part of Prospect Theater Company’s revue Notes from Now, and, above all, sold out your April 15th Lincoln Center’s American Songbook concert, “Songs by an Immigrant” in a mere 24 hours, you could turn out to be a stuck-up egomaniac. Or you could be Jaime Lozano.
Despite his growing notoriety and popularity, the Mexican-born composer remains humble, grateful, and, above all, fully committed to telling the stories of the Latinx community. TheaterPizzazz recently spoke to Lozano about his remarkable journey – both geographic and professional – and what comes next.
Q: When you were growing up in Mexico, was being a musical theater composer in the United States part of your life plan?
JL: To be completely honest, I did not imagine ever being in the U.S. I was raised in Monterrey and I come from a very modest family; we didn’t have the financial resources for me to come to study in the U.S. I was supposed to study criminology in Mexico, but at the last minute, I enrolled at the School of Music at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León instead — where I originally studied opera singing. Eventually, I changed my major to composition, because my favorite teacher had studied in the U.S. and he had lots of books about American musical theater. That’s how I really learned how to make this form of art. I really didn’t know much about musicals growing up.
Q: So how did you end up at NYU, where you got a scholarship to the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program?
JL: In Mexico, I started to write and direct my own musicals – in Spanish — so I started looking for directing programs. I discovered this program at NYU, which was the closest to what I wanted. I came to visit New York, and I went into the NYU building and just spoke to someone there – I think he might have been a security guard — and he explained there were a lot of foreign students in this program. And through this program, music became my first language.
Q: I gather you had a life-changing experience shortly after you arrived?
JL: Yes, I found a flier for a show where the main character looked like my brother, so I went to that show, even though I had no idea what the words “In the Heights” meant. But then they started singing in Spanglish, and soon enough, I was crying through the whole show. And that was because it was the first time that I saw something I could really relate to. More important, it was a validation that I could tell my own stories about people like me and my family. That’s what I do now. I speak my truth and the truth of people like me through songs about learning a new language, missing home, pursuing one’s dreams in another country or finding a new chosen family. And I am so lucky to have found this “familia” of other Latinx performers who also want to tell these stories and to be supported by people like Lin-Manuel. He actually wrote the letters that helped me get my Green Card, which is why I am still here.
Q: You first premiered “Songs by an Immigrant” in 2019. I’m curious why you chose that word since it can be politically loaded?
JL: Someone told me this — that we are all immigrants, because at the moment we leave our mother’s womb, we are all in a strange, crazy world and we have to learn about everything. And, of course, this country was founded from immigrants from everywhere — and as a result, it’s a beautiful mosaic of color, cultures, languages and accents that makes us stronger. Ultimately, to me, an immigrant is just someone trying to find a better life in another place.
Q: When I saw you with Mauricio Martinez at 54 Below, you played songs from two new musicals in development. What can you tell me about those shows and your other projects?
JL: I always work on many projects at the same time, because sometimes one project just goes nowhere. I am working on about five different things right now. You heard one song from Children of Salt, which was my thesis musical at NYU, and now I’m working on a film adaptation. We did a song from Present Perfect, which is about an ESL teacher for immigrants; it was supposed to premiere in Florida two years ago, but then Covid-19 hit, and now, I am trying to find another theater to produce it. I am working with my wife on a show about women living in Juarez, which is this very machismo community in Mexico. And I am working on a second volume of “Songs by an Immigrant,” and will premiere some of those songs on April 15. To me, it’s a song cycle, but there are people who see it as a full-blown musical. So yes, I am working hard, but as you can see, I am passionate about my work and my mission.
Jaime Lozano will appear in Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Concert Series on April 15th with “Songs by an Immigrant.” It is Sold Out!
Lead Photo by Russ Rowland