Press Play on Dreams: A Listening Party with Jesse J. Sanchez

Only weeks after the debut of his first musical’s concept EP, and fresh from the first read-through of his even newer show, two-time Frank Young Fund for New Musicals Grantee Jesse J. Sanchez not only tunes in with us, but also turns up the volume on his creative spirit.

Pop in your headphones! Join us for a jam session and a journey through the heart of storytelling. Find out why when Jesse plays, the world listens.

Let’s listen to:

Book, Music and Lyrics by Jesse J. Sanchez
Additional Music and Orchestrations by Jeff Chambers

SUEÑOS: OUR AMERICAN MUSICAL is produced for Theatre Barn Records by Héctor Flores, Jr., Joe Barros, and Kate Trammell, and is co-produced with Jim Kierstead, Straighten Your Crown Productions and Jesse J. Sanchez. Orchestrations and additional music are by Jeff Chambers, music supervisor and additional orchestrations are by Jesse J. Sanchez, and the music producer and mixer is Lloyd Kikoler.

Available on Theatre Barn Records

Buy It Now


My name is Jesse J. Sanchez, and I’m originally from San Jose, California. I grew up going to Lincoln High School, a public performing arts magnet, and I started in the middle school band and really wanted to learn how to play an instrument. In high school, I joined all the different bands. I was playing in Jazz Band one day, and our teacher said, “I heard you’re pretty good. We’re looking for a trumpet to play in the pit for the school musical.” School musical? What is that? She didn’t even ask. She said I was going to play in the pit, and so my first musical was Oklahoma! during my freshman year. I had no idea what a “Sitzprobe” was, but we were playing, they were singing and dancing, and I was hooked!



Once I graduated high school, I wanted to pursue music. I thought, I can play the trumpet and play the piano and sing… I’ll be a rock star and form a band and do all those things. So, I went to West Valley Community College, and I kept getting hired to play in orchestra pits and salsa bands. I remember thinking it was so cool to get paying gigs. I transferred to the University of Idaho, which was great, being that since it was in the middle of nowhere, there was nothing to do except hone-in on all my musical skills in this gem of a hidden jazz town. I got to work on vocal arranging and writing. In the jazz choir, I brought in new charts and arrangements to get feedback right there on the spot. I remember just spending hours talking to Dan Bukvich about voice leading and singable melodies or alto parts, different kinds of things. And it just got bigger from there, and I started writing my own original work.

At the same time, I was driving to the Lewiston Civic Theatre every night because I craved musical theatre. We hardly did musicals at the college, so I was driving out 45 minutes each way for Beauty and the Beast just to be in the pit again. I missed it! Of course, during my final year at school, we finally did a musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.



Right after I graduated, I was music directing a ton, and while I loved it so much, I was wondering what to do with it or if this was the right career path. I thought I’d go to graduate school and get my degree in conducting. I applied and I got a ton of auditions. Just a few months before, I met Joe Church at San Francisco State—the Joseph Church from The Lion King and The Who’s Tommy, he’s a legend. We stayed connected and when I went out to New York to audition, he invited me for coffee. Now, here I am in his apartment on the Upper West Side and he’s legendary and I am super excited, and all of a sudden, he’s remembering I’m from the Bay Area. I tell him I am, and he said, “you know what? Alex Lacamoire is looking for a Music Assistant to join the Hamilton tour, and that’s their first stop. Let me tell him about you.”

The next day, I had a flight back to California with a layover in Seattle for some reason. Suddenly, I got a message from Alex, “Can we talk? Joe Church gave me your name.” I knew instantly that I was going to miss my connecting flight for that call, and I didn’t even care because it was Alex Lacamoire from In the Heights, which was so pivotal for me. In The Heights was a musical about a neighborhood of Latino folks and their hopes and dreams and wants. A lot of my writing influences are about family members and people from my life, so I really connected. Alex was a huge deal to me because he was the magic behind the music of Heights. I told myself, even if I didn’t get this gig, I was going to have this conversation. You bet I missed the flight. And he offered me the job.



After that moment, two things happened. One, I met a ton of people, and just by being associated with the show and being an up-and-coming Latino music director at the time, people started to recognize me. And two, I really got to understand how to create a piece that was just so, so beautiful and authentic. I watched a month of previews, saw everything that it took, and all while I was writing my own musical. I knew I could write music and arrange, and I knew my skills up to this point, but I didn’t believe in myself. I had an idea and eventually shared that idea with the associate director on the tour. She gave me feedback on a treatment and started shepherding me along.

After Hamilton, I got the opportunity to work with Stephen Schwartz on the original production of The Prince of Egypt. That was another genius that I got to sit in the room with and just transcribe his songs and be a fly on the wall. But I was also experiencing this mentality shift, “oh, I want to write!” I made a commitment to myself to finish this musical. I set up a reading on my own and flew to New York and that was the first read-through. We did no songs, we just read it—I didn’t want to waste all these generous people’s time. But after the presentation, Doreen Montalvo came up to me. “Jesse, this is so special,” she says. “I want to sing these songs. Go, finish them.” And I did.



We came back and had a second reading, and two days later, thanks to actor Amanda Robles sharing my script, Joe Barros at New York Theatre Barn called me. “Can we put you in our new works series?” Of course, I’m going to be there! I’ve now been a part of all their core programs, including their choreography lab, new works series and Barn on Fire musical residency. We also received a NAMT grant from the Frank Young Fund for New Musicals for a developmental workshop. That has finally culminated with a concept EP for my show Sueños: Our American Musical, which dropped last month and is available now. New York Theatre Barn has been such a home for me, and I want to give a special shout out to my time on Fire Island during their Barn on Fire summer residency. Jerry Mitchell was my mentor, and I am still in touch with him, Jim Kierstead, Hector Flores, Jr. and Nicole LaFountaine, who are all instrumental in supporting Barn on Fire, Sueños and me personally.

Five months after Barn on Fire, my orchestrator Jeff Chambers and I were invited to the Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals by Michael Fling, who is just amazing. I’ve been a fan of his for a minute. I had been working on this for almost seven years now and knew what was and wasn’t working. I had a lot of consistency in terms of the feedback of what people loved or didn’t get, and I knew the biggest thing I wanted to do was go in and rewrite Act II. We were there for two weeks, and it was beautiful. I’m really excited about this new version. We continue to follow Ali’s journey to Juilliard, which is such a basic thing but such a huge idea because going to college is still not a realistic choice for many people who look like me. The one thing that I see, as Latino people or just BIPOC in general, is that we have to be extraordinary in order to be competitive in the field. You see Lin Manuel Miranda and Gloria Estefan, who absolutely are extraordinary, but there are so many Latino writers out there and I feel like our time is coming to really shine. Not just another big musical on Broadway, but also the two-person musicals and the children’s musicals.



Zapata: A Folklorico Superhero Musical is a new project that I have been blessed to be commissioned to create by ZACH Theatre and the TYA BIPOC Superhero Project. It’s about a girl who discovers there’s a family secret and goes on a journey with a her talking chihuahua to the Cinco Regiones, or the five regions, and explore places like Oaxaca and Veracruz and learn the traditional dances to obtain the superpower of “Zapata” and save her mom. No relation to historical figure, Emiliano Zapata. I’ve been really lucky to partner with ZACH Theatre on this, and together we’ve won my second NAMT grant through the Frank Young Fund for New Musicals.

My main mission of this piece is to incorporate local community folklórico groups, whether they’re from schools or organized in the city. There will be a handful of actors supported by an ensemble of dancers as an engagement aspect of the Latino community. Folks who look like me aren’t going to the theatre. The only way I know that we can bring them in is through the things they already know and love. Maybe that sparks something. I’m the Resident Music Supervisor at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and so I hope we can develop the show locally here in Oregon, too. My hope is to bring the choreographer here and workshop the dances by partnering with folklórico groups in Medford and Southern Oregon. It’s something that I’m passionate about right now.



And while I’ve never written a “TYA” show before, I also didn’t write Sueños for it to be on Broadway either. When I think back on my experience, high school and the many musicals, I realize that what spoke to me was the music and the jazz and the harmonies. I could write a musical specifically for Broadway, but I wonder what it will be like when a college, high school or community theatre does my show. I want Mexican-American folks to have a musical with good songs and a good story that is authentic, written by somebody in their community. Maybe that’ll make them want to write their musical. Actually, my hope is that we start seeing more productions of their work onstage, because it’s one thing to develop these shows but we have to produce them and give people the chance to recognize them and see them. We just did American Mariachi by Jose Cruz Gonzalez at the Alley Theatre in Houston, and it has a full mariachi band on stage. And just like In the Heights and On Your Feet, it was sold out every night. It always is. 


was supported in part by the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Frank Young Fund for New Musicals –


was supported in part by the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Frank Young Fund for New Musicals –


Book, Music and Lyrics by Jesse J. Sanchez
Additional Music and Orchestrations by Jeff Chambers

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