What began as a song written the day after the 2016 national election has expanded into a concept album and a stage musical — with a concert production of the theatrical project, #Hash(tag) America, scheduled to take place in Los Angeles on Nov. 18. The cast includes co-creator American Idol alum Anthony Fedorov, Star Trek: Picard lead Isa Briones and Broadway star Eden Espinosa, who has had lead roles in Wicked, Rent and Brooklyn The Musical.
“With the 2016 election I felt an energy shift in our country,” Fedorov tells Billboard. “The next day, I had a writing session with one of my good friends, singer/songwriter Raye Zaragoza. Her artistic activism has been a big source of inspiration for me. She was really heartbroken and I told her that by the end of our writing session she would feel better. We ended up writing a song called ‘Sun Will Rise’ and that was the beginning of the concept album for #Hash(tag) America. Then I ran a crowd-funding campaign for a socially and politically driven album co-produced by Grammy winner (Jean-Yves) Jeeve Ducornet titled Calling On You. After I finished the album, I continued to write songs about racism, gun violence and discrimination. After three years of exploring and documenting what’s been going on in our country, I looked at my body of work and with my partner and co-conceiver of the show Jennifer Paz, we decided that there was enough material to start constructing a theatrical piece.”
Fedorov played some of the music for his friend Louis Hobson, who later joined the project as an associate producer. A meeting with David Armstrong, former producing artistic director of the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, was a full circle moment for life partners Fedorov and Paz, who originally met at the 5th during a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “David really connected with the music and we decided to put on a music presentation in New York City titled Sing S.O.S. at the Green Room 42 to start fleshing out what this show could potentially be.”
For the New York show, Fedorov called on some friends to join the cast, including Kyle Carter (The Lion King, In the Heights), who co-wrote some lyrics for the show; Christina Sajous (American Idiot, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark); and Heath Saunders (Alice by Heart, NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert). Carter and Sajous will be part of the L.A. presentation. “We needed to complete our cast so I reached out to my friends Eden Espinosa and Isa Briones,” says Fedorov. “I’ve admired their work for a long time as well and we’re really fortunate that the timing worked out.”
“I was so inspired by Anthony’s vision for the piece,” Briones tells Billboard. “His passion to take action in times of political turmoil through his art is a drive that is missing for so many out there. I just want to be a part of this kind of important work and be surrounded by other passionate artists.” The L.A. concert reading of #Hash(tag) America will mark one of Briones’ first public appearances since completing production on the first season of the much-anticipated Star Trek: Picard. “My first performance since Star Trek was Crazy Talented Asians, created by our music director AJ Rafael. That was one of my first opportunities to interact one-on-one with fans of Star Trek. Other Asian Americans came up to me to talk about how much it meant to them that I, a Filipino-American actress, was representing in Picard. That truly touched me so much and reminded me just how important shows like Crazy Talented Asians and #Hash(tag) America are to push for the representation of all races and walks of life in the arts.”
Espinosa also spoke to Billboard about her participation. “I’m from L.A. and anytime I get to be a part of anything musical theater-related on the west coast, I jump right in. It’s rare to have presentations of new works in L.A. The message of the show is a huge reason why I signed on. It’s so important and relevant. I really feel like it’s a true expression of artists who are feeling frustrated or helpless when it comes to the current state of our country. We need to be creating more original content that might be difficult to talk about at times. I feel like this piece is definitely breaking boundaries.”
Fedorov’s goal for the L.A. presentation is to “bring people of all backgrounds and beliefs together to hear these urgent messages and stories in the hopes of finding a common ground. We’re also using the opportunity to invite theatrical, film and TV producers and investors to help fulfill our goals.”
Speaking about the message of the show, Fedorov explained, “To me, the messages within this show represent what it truly means to be an American. To be an American is to be an immigrant coming from somewhere and finding a way to make this complex and diverse social experiment work for all, not just for the few.
At the core, the messages within this show are about rediscovering our humanity, showing more empathy and speaking truth to power.”
The creative team for the Los Angeles presentation of #Hash(tag) America includes co-direction by David Armstrong (Scandalous) and Shidan Majidi (Me, the ‘Other’), and music arrangements by Rick Hip-Flores (Ain’t Too Proud, In Transit). The concert reading will take place at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood.