Scottsdale native Lucas Coatney’s voice breaks over the phone as he recalls his Sept. 11, 2001 experience.
“I am so sorry,” Coatney said. “I get so emotional because ‘Americano!’ has 9/11 in it and I was actually in New York. Reliving it in the show every night is incredible.”
This is one of the few times Coatney – who plays Joaquin in the musical “Americano!” – has opened up about his Sept. 11 experience, he said.
“[The cab driver] turns the car around, and I had this weird moment where – and I know this is so dramatic – I looked at the sun, and I thought, ‘This is the last time I’ll see the sun.’ And I don’t know why it was so profound and so stuck in my mind,” Coatney recalled.
“I had never been so scared,” he added.
While it still feels raw for Coatney to talk about that day.
He said it’s just one of many reasons he was drawn to “Americano!”, a musical written by Jonathan Rosenberg and Michael Barnard, producing artistic director of the Phoenix Theatre Company.
The musical, which premieres Jan. 29 and runs through Feb. 23 at the Phoenix Theatre Company, tells the true story of Phoenix native Tony Valdovinos, a DREAMer brought to America by his parents when he was 2 years old.
Inspired by 9/11, Valdovinos then tried to enlist in the Marine Corps on his 18th birthday, only to discover he was an undocumented immigrant – a secret his parents kept from him.
Like many other DREAMers, Valdovinos grew up American and did not know of his undocumented status.
“I met with them and I told them my whole life story,” Valdovinos said of Barnard and Rosenberg. “I knew it was a big opportunity.”
“Americano!” features an original score by critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez, musical arrangements by Sergio Mendoza with Marco Rosano, and choreography by Sergio Mejia.
“Imagine someone calling you out of the blue and then a year or so later, you hear 20 songs involving the most intimate details of your life? There were 17 artists investing their best talent in the depiction of some of my most personal challenges. But this journey is worth it to share the story of DREAMers and what their families are going through. And it will also put a smile on their faces,” Valdovinos said in a statement.
The local cast is comprised of Valley natives, including Coatney, a current Scottsdale resident whose other the Phoenix Theatre Company credits include “The Sound of Music,” “Kinky Boots,” “Jersey Boys,” “Elf: The Musical,” “West Side Story,” and more.
“What attracted me to [‘Americano!] was [it’s] a story about someone local, and being a sixth-generation Arizonian, I was really attracted to that — anything about someone local and Hispanic, as I am of Hispanic descent,” Coatney said.
Coatney’s family has left quite the mark on Scottsdale.
Not only did his grandparents, Arnulfo Murrieta and Mary Dolores “Mardie” Murrieta, build one of the first homes on Scottsdale and McDowell Road, but Arnulfo also made the historic Papago Plaza sign and the Courtesy Chevrolet sign on Camelback Road.
Coatney’s family has since sold the house they once paid a mere $8,000 to build.
“My mom’s the first of eight, so they had eight kids, and they all grew up here. They went to Coronado High, and they went to Supai Elementary School, when it was an elementary school,” Coatney said.
Coatney attended Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center, now Echo Canyon School, went on to attend New School for the Arts and then hopped on a flight with his friend to live in New York City for eight years.
“Tony Valdovinos was in grade school when the towers were hit and we relive that scene in ‘Americano!’ To be at the forefront of that, to experience it and then to retell the story of someone who wasn’t there and was watching it in a classroom with their teachers, it moved me a lot,” Coatney said.
Coatney had been living in New York City for about one year the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Having just signed a contract for Ballet for Young Audiences, Coatney on his way to the studio for his first day.
“I thought I was in a war zone,” he said. “I know there are so many pictures of people, but to see that? It was like they were walking zombies, walking uptown, back to their houses.”
And while Coatney identified with the play on many levels – “Tony was brought up in a construction family, and my dad was in construction,” he said – it’s the character of Joaquin that resonated most with him.
“First of all, it’s never said in the play, but Joaquin is gay and it resonated with me growing up gay in Arizona,” Coatney said.
Coatney also describes Joaquin as the comic relief of the musical, which he identifies with as well.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there are so many parallels to this character,’” Coatney said.
The cast and crew have been rehearsing for three weeks, and because it’s a new musical, they’ve gone through plenty of rewrites and changes.
“It’s challenging,” Coatney said of the tweaks and rewrites. “But I would say the hardest thing is getting a groove of the show because you’re dancing, and when you’re racing off, you’re changing your clothes and coming back as another character. [Barnard’s] storytelling is fast and furious and beautiful.”
Coatney added the pacing of the musical also mirrors Valdovinos as a person.
“When he got knocked down so many times, he gets back up fast. And the show is like that, very fast-paced. Tony is very charismatic and he’s optimistic,” Coatney said.
Coatney hopes the audience learns from Valdovinos.
“No matter how many times you get knocked down, get back up again and always follow your dreams,” Coatney said. “[‘Americano!] is about family and believing in your country and what it stands for.”
The producer of “Americano!” is Jason Rose, president of Rose + Moser + Allyn Public & Online Relations; and the executive producer is Tony Award-Winning producer Ken Davenport of “Altar Boyz,” “Godspell,” “Kinky Boots,” and “Once on This Island.”
If You Go: "Americano!"
When: Jan. 29–Feb. 23; Wednesday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays
Where: The Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N. Central Ave.