Anyone who attended “Welcome to America: A Caribbean Musical” on Saturday, Oct. 28 at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium, whatever their position on illegal immigration, would have to have a heart of ice to not feel empathy for the young illegal immigrants who work hard, often in arduous and sometimes unsafe conditions, to stay in America.
“I’m an alien. I’m an illegal alien. I’m a Jamaican in New York,” (sung to Sting’s, “An Englishman in New York”) was the opening song for the play’s first scene featuring a cast of 10 young actors dressed in hip-hop-influenced clothing as well as a Statue of Liberty dancing to a series of well-choreographed dance pieces. To see these young people, who I later learned represented Caribbean and South American cultures, engage the auditorium’s audience with their joyful energy full of hope and wonder at being in New York City was reminiscent to me of my response to the ever-popular production of “Rent” and the many previews of “Hamilton,” which I’ve yet to attend.
With a storyline tied to the current discussions/actions around visas, deportations and all things immigration, the play centers around Sabrina, a young woman in Jamaica, who decides that she must return to the U.S. to fulfill her dream to be an actor before her visitor visa runs out. With the blessing of her mother, she boards a plane to New York City where she intends to live with her aunt until she finds success. As so many immigrant stories in the U.S., the way to stardom is not along streets paved with gold and endless opportunities, as Sabrina had hoped; the story of her challenges, disappointments, reality checks is shared with the audience through sometimes upbeat, sometimes somber songs and choreography.
I loved the superb choreography of the dance numbers and the strength of the actors’ voices, particularly the solos by the lead actors Sabrina and Elijah, her childhood friend and love interest, and the solo selections by ensemble actor Shykia Field. The lighting was good and the scene changes were smooth. However, the quality of the backdrop was poor and the sound challenges, particularly earlier in the show, were enough of a distraction to lower the production quality. As well, the group songs needed a bit more practice as they fell a little short. This may be attributed to the sound challenges.
Overall this was a good production both because of its great entertainment value, and its relevance to the continuing discussions about immigration policies, DACA and deportations in the media. No matter where one stands on the immigration issue, I believe the Statue of Liberty said it best, when she said, “This country is pumping with immigrant blood. They can’t get rid of everybody.”
—Cherrie Woods, Freelance Writer. Cherrie Woods is a 16-year PR veteran in arts and culture and the author of two books. She writes about arts and culture, small businesses, restaurants that she encounters at home in the U.S. and in her travels. She says she focuses on the “street level,” meaning the great events, artists, shows, etc. that we may not always hear about in the mainstream media.