The influence of Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to know no bounds. The New York actor, composer and writer, toast of both Broadway and Hollywood, winner of an Emmy, Tony and even a Pulitzer, has no doubt influenced millions of fans and theater-lovers across the globe. One of those is local film and digital media producer Miguel Orozco.
“Seven years ago I went to a play by Lin-Manuel Miranda — In the Heights,” Orozco recalls. “I didn’t have a lot of experience with theater growing up. But it really hit me. I stored that experience away.”
Orozco is the founder of Nueva Vista Media, a Camarillo-based company that creates media and marketing strategies aimed at diverse communities. Much of his film work is in the education and outreach fields, but his great love is storytelling. After Orozco’s father died five years ago, he became interested in trying to “save all of his stories — about living in Mexico, and how he met my mom.” Remembering In the Heights, he realized that the stage could be the perfect platform to preserve his family history and celebrate his heritage.
Orozco began taking notes and working on a script loosely based on the lives of his parents, their trials and tribulations and their immigration to the United States. But his vision for the project really coalesced after seeing a production of Oklahoma! in Chicago. “It inspired me to make ¡Ay Chihuahua!,” Orozco explains. “I realized that a musical is a great way to tell these stories of my father — but with a little twist on it.”
His little twist: exchanging the country and bluegrass-inspired soundtrack of Oklahoma! for mariachi music (provided by Mariachia Aguilas de Oxnard) and square dancing for ballet folklorico (courtesy of Ballet Folklorico Mestizo).
¡Ay Chihuahua! A Mariachi Musical follows the journey of Poncho, a shoemaker by day and mariachi by night, who leaves his native Mexico for life in the United States. Poncho’s journey starts in León, Guanajuato, in Central Mexico (where Orozco’s father grew up). The death of Poncho’s father reveals long-hidden family secrets. He goes on a journey of self-discovery, hoping to start fresh in the U.S. On his way north his car breaks down in Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua, and Poncho becomes enchanted with the local community . . . and a young local girl, Rosanna, who is loosely based on Orozco’s mother.
Orozco grew up in East L.A. and Utah, but has spent a lot of time in both birthplaces of his parents. He studied at the Universidad de Guanajuato in León, and visited family in Cuauhtémoc. Sharing the unique aspects of these distinct regions of Mexico is part of the pleasure Orozco took in crafting ¡Ay Chihuahua! Shoemaking, for example, is a major industry in León, a large, metropolitan city; Poncho’s occupation honors that. Cuauhtémoc is more rural, with an agrarian economy. Its Festival de las Tres Culturas serves as an important plot element. “Cuauhtémoc was named for an Aztec ruler,” explains Orozco. “It’s a city of inclusivity. It’s a land of three cultures, with a really diverse community: the mestizos, the indigenous Rarámuri and the Mennonites. And they all get along. They work together and support each other.” The festival celebrates all three of these cultures coming together, and the respect the city’s denizens have for each other.
“It’s similar to an East Coast versus West Coast or Midwest kind of story,” Orozco continues. “In Southern Mexico, they speak a more neutral, ‘proper’ Spanish, and status is very tied to wealth. In Cuauhtémoc, the accent is different, the food is different, there’s greater acceptance and inclusivity. When this urban man comes to this more rural place, there’s a metamorphosis that happens.”
Local theater-goers might remember Orozco from El Bracero, a mariachi opera he staged last year in Oxnard and Moorpark. The connections he made with Mariachi Aguilas de Oxnard, Ballet Folklorico Mestizo and the local acting community helped him establish a new theater group, the ÁNIMO Theatre Company. ¡Ay Chihuahua! will be ÁNIMO’s first production; Mariachi Girl by Roxanne Schroeder-Arce is planned for the fall.
“We want to tell uplifting stories,” Orozco says of ÁNIMO’s vision. “Doing present-day stories of Latino heritage — we want to go deeper into that. We’re not ‘bad hombres.’ We’re very hardworking people, with a rich heritage. We respect the laws here, and the people — and we want to be respected.”
He adds that ¡Ay Chihuahua! “celebrates and showcases the good things that come from Mexico. We hold very close to our hearts our culture and traditions and history.”
Some “good things” of which he is most proud: the open minds and open hearts exemplified by the diverse community of Cuauhtémoc. The city exemplifies the message at the heart of ¡Ay Chihuahua! “With this play I hope people see what we’re celebrating: inclusivity and respect for each other,” Orozco says.
¡Ay Chihuahua! A Mariachi Musical runs March 24-25 at the Oxnard College Performing Arts Center, 4000 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard. For tickets and more information, call 316-5409 or www.AyChihuahuaMusical.com.