Melissa Harris-Perry: Thanks for being with us. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and this is The Takeaway. Her face is everywhere, Frida Kahlo t-shirts and mugs and tote bags, even Barbie dolls, all neatly packaged for our consumption. Her signature of flower crown bold unibrow and brightly colored dress have become cultural shorthand for third-way feminism. Her life, at times turbulent and painful, has been depicted dramatically in movies and on television, including the 2002 release, Frida, starring Salma Hayek. You're listening to a song from that film's soundtrack. This extraordinary artist was not just iconic, she was human.
Jaime Lozano: Frida was a warrior, Frida was a woman who loved life. She signed in her last painting Viva la Vida, cheers to life. She was ahead of her time, she was someone who wasn't afraid to be herself.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jaime Lozano is working with Frida Kahlo's family to bring her story to life in a new way. Why a musical to tell this story?
Jaime Lozano: Why not?
Melissa Harris-Perry: [laughter] That's such a great answer, yes. Why not?
Jaime Lozano: Why not?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jaime is the composer for Frida, The Musical, produced by Valentina Berger, written by Neena Beber, and set to open on Broadway in 2024.
Jaime Lozano: I strongly believe in the power of musical theater. I think it's one of the most complete and beautiful forms for storytelling. We're basing this musical on a book called Intimate Frida that was written by Frida's niece, Isolda Pinedo Kahlo, who used to live with them when she was a child. One of the thing that capture my attention in the book, one is that Frida loves singing. She was singing the whole time. She was painting and singing.
Another thing is she loved watching people dance. She used to ask to her niece to dance for her, and that cheer her up when she was watching other people dancing. It was a really important part of Frida life, music, dancing, and singing. That's what we trying to do, just celebrate these women that was ahead of her time, that was a warrior and had inspire many, many of us in many, many ways.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The production starts with Frida Kahlo's youth in Mexico City. Her volatile marriage to and divorce from painter, Diego Rivera, and her travels to Paris and New York before returning home to her final resting place at the famous Blue House. When she was only 18, Frida Kahlo survived a horrific bus accident that left her with a shattered spine and pelvis and a lifetime of chronic pain. Her life was not easy, but she found joy in it. Those who knew her best say she was funny, smart, and full of energy, all of which the musical aims to capture.
Jaime Lozano: It's a very different point of view. I think that makes it very, very special because I think we always see Frida as this legend sometimes unreachable. We look to her paintings and we see a lot of suffer, we see a lot of pain, but usually, we don't think about the other side. What we want to present to the out is, the story that we want to tell, it's a story of a real human being, sad moment but also moments full of celebration and joy.
We all know about many moment that other movies or documentaries or other theater pieces has shown, but what we wanted to do is go deeper than that and really show this tridimensional character that is actually a real human being. That's the only way that we can learn and that we can enjoy, and we can give more value to her journey.
I won't play safe
I'll see with my heart
I'll swallow the sky and give back my tears.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That's singer and actress Florencia Cuenca performing a preview of Wings, one of the songs that Jaime composed for the Frida Musical. She's also his wife. The song is based on one of Frida's most famous quotes, made in reference to her devastating accident.
Jaime Lozano: Pies, para que los quiero, si tengo alas para volar. That means, "Feet what do I need you for if I find wings to fly?" Actually, that was the very first song that we wrote for this project, and it was during the pandemic. We wrote this song around two years ago. We were here just in this crazy lockdown, not being able to go out. That's a mantra for many of us, that art help us to fly. We have ways to go further, we have ways to go beyond life. I think we were flying when we were writing this song.
We were maybe in a lockdown in this pandemic here at home with my wife, with my son, just struggling to pay the rent, just struggling, trying to juggle with everything, with virtual school and writing, and projects and all that. When we were writing this song, I just felt like we were flying. We were just transcending, telling this story, and knowing that this song was inspiring us to do more and to learn from Frida.
We show this song to the Frida family who are very supportive with the show. They were, "Oh, we love this and I think that a musical is a great idea to tell the story of Frida." Thanks to this song, we start writing all the other songs. It's just a song that is very close to our heart because everything that it says.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm so interested in this connection that you're making with the experience of the pandemic and the quarantine, and a link to that human experience that Frida had as a young woman, 18 years old when she was seriously injured and spent all of that time in that full body plaster immobilized in that period of confinement. I'm not sure that I would've thought of that in connection with the experience of confinement that so many felt in the context of the quarantine.
Jaime Lozano: There's many, many ways to relate with Frida story. We want people to really be affected by the story in a good way, and to connect with that. At that time was the way that I connected with her struggle. That helped us a lot to start writing the show.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay. Let's take a break, back with more on Frida's story when we return. This is The Takeaway.
I was a girl long ago
I've grown to a woman inside this same scheme
Wrapping my heart in a bow, though outside I am broken
Melissa Harris-Perry: You're back on The Takeaway, I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. We're continuing our conversation with Jaime Lozano, longtime musical theater, director, and composer who's part of the creative team behind Frida, The Musical, which is coming to Broadway in 2024. What surprised you, what did you learn that you didn't expect to find working on this project?
Jaime Lozano: To be honest, what I learn is more than about the project of Frida herself, it's about myself. I found myself in those songs. That is the thing that made me think, "Oh, I think we are in the right path." Knowing that I feel closer to that story, realizing this part of our moment that we have in common has helped me to be more honest with the story. I just love learning about myself as I'm digging and writing the story.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Like most artists, Jaime brings his own story into much of this work.
Jaime Lozano: As you can notice by my accent and my English, I'm originally from Mexico, born and raised in Mexico. The first time that I came to the States, to New York City, I was already 20 years old. Since then when I found myself in the middle of this beautiful and diverse city, I knew that I wanted to write and tell my own stories, stories about myself, about my people, about my community, about my country, about my familia, about the Latinx community, the Mexican community. That has been my goal and my mission, just to share all these stories because these story deserve to be told and heard. That has been one of the reason why I've been doing musical theater in this city because I want to honor my people, I want to bring these stories to life, I want to let other people know what is our journey, what is our struggle, what is our joy.
In that way, being that specific, I have found that many people from many countries around the world relate with these journey. They don't need to be from Mexico. I create these project songs by an immigrant and I have the honor that amazing Latinx performers from the Broadway community and beyond are singing my song. We have been doing sold-out concerts in the most important venues around New York City, even in Mexico
Melissa Harris-Perry: Released in 2020 songs by an immigrant features the familia, a lineup of Latinx Broadway and off-Broadway performers, singing about the immigrant experience in the United States, its joys and challenges, and using music to bridge the gap.
If you want to work in this business
You gotta change your name
Melissa Harris-Perry: Can you tell me a little bit about the song You Gotta Change Your Name?
Jaime Lozano: [unintelligible 00:11:54] is a Mexican American amazing performer. She has been on many, many Broadway shows and she was just a few days ago. She did her last performance in Hamilton on Broadway as Angelica Skyler. She's a very close friend. I was reading this interview when, back in the time when she was starting, her agent asked her to change her last name because l[unintelligible 00:12:23] was not American at all.
She wanted to have jobs. She decided to keep her last name. This song is about that, about people asking us to not be ourselves, to change who we are. That's part of our journey. Sometimes maybe it could be easy if I say, "Oh, my name is Jamie Lozano." No, my name is Jaime Lozano. I have to honor my people, and I have to honor my name and I have to honor my journey. That's the way this song was born because someone asked Mandy to change her last name. I think many people has related with the story. That is why we grow this song because we need to honor and to love who we are.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jaime says his ultimate goal with music is to create community and build bridges among all of us, not unlike the subject of his upcoming musical. Just to end, I want to come back to Frida. How do you see her as a bridge creator?
Jaime Lozano: Oh, she's a bridge in many, many ways, starting with her art. She invented the selfie way before the selfie existed.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That's so true.
Jaime Lozano: We are trying to tell our own story. She has teached us to do that. We are learning from there. She's a bridge to tell our own stories, to not be afraid, to tell stories about ourselves and who we are, to not be afraid to be who we are, not only in our writing but in our daily lives, being out there and just being ourself, being honest and creating a community with our people and beyond with other communities. I think that is the key that creating those bridges in the way that Frida did back in her time.
Roberton the creator of that surrealistic movement, she used to say, "Oh, Frida is a surrealistic painter." She said, "Oh, I am not surrealistic. I just paint from my heart. I just paint who I am." She was connected with all kind of painters, poets, artists from all over the world, from all over the world, from every single country. That thing that connect them was art. That's what we're trying to do, connect with people through this story and through this musical that hopefully is going to be an art piece that people is going to feel related with and is going to help to reconnect with who we are.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jaime Lozano, the composer of Frida, The Musical, which is in development for 2024. Thank you so much, Jaime.
Jaime Lozano: Thank you. My pleasure. I hope to see you soon in person.
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