The National Endowment for the Arts’ Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge is a national contest for high school students presented in partnership with the American Theatre Wing, in collaboration with Disney Theatrical Productions, Concord Theatricals and National Music Publishers’ Association’s S.O.N.G.S Foundation. The goal of the program is to engage the musical theater field in nurturing the next generation of songwriters. Winners are paired with a professional theatrical coaching team consisting of a mentor and music director to hone the student’s original song into a Broadway-ready composition. Their song is then recorded by Broadway musicians and vocalists in New York City. Final songs are distributed on streaming music platforms and compiled into a songbook created by Concord Theatricals.
One of the 12 winning songs is by Floridian Alejandro Rodríguez, a Colombian composer/performer. He graduated Cypress Bay High School in Weston and is currently pursuing a degree in Music Composition at Florida State University. Rodríguez has been doing musical theatre and music since he was in elementary school, participating in various musical productions in and out of school, as well as taking voice, piano, acting, and dance lessons. He is currently writing a musical called My Elijah, a gay love story set in Europe during World War II. Some of his music for My Elijah can be heard on his recently released EP “Songs from My Elijah” on most streaming platforms. Alejandro’s winning song, “Days from Long Ago,” is taken from My Elijah. He would like to thank the NEA & American Theatre Wing for this incredible opportunity as well as his family and friends for their endless support.
The Division of Cultural Affairs would like to thank Alejandro for answering a few questions about himself and his art.
How long have you lived in Florida?
I was born and raised in South Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. My whole family is Colombian and they moved to Florida two years before I was born.
What got you started in theatre?
When I was 7 years old, I started taking voice lessons at Broadway Kids Studio in Davie, FL and was introduced to the amazing beauty that is Musical Theatre. I remember the first musical theatre song I ever sang was “Mister Cellophane” from the musical Chicago. Then a few years later, I saw my first musical which was the Broadway tour of Wicked and that basically formed my love for theatre and Broadway.
How did you find out about the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge? What was the process of preparing and applying like?
I was doing the show 35mm at Broadway Kids back in February 2020 and my director forwarded me an email about the Songwriting Challenge and told me that I should apply. At the time, I had recently released an EP on all streaming platforms of a few songs from the show I’m currently writing, My Elijah, as part of my sister Valentina’s college senior thesis. “Days from Long Ago,” was on that EP and so I decided to submit that song. I submitted the track, the score, and the storylines of the song and the show, and how the song fits into the show. I only found out about the competition about a week before the deadline but thankfully the application process was quite simple. The NEA extended the deadline due to the pandemic, so I didn’t hear from them for about five months. Then in August, I got an email saying that I advanced on to the final round of judging and then about a month later, I got another email saying that I was selected as one of the 12 national winners for the challenge. I didn’t think I had a chance at all of being selected since it was a national competition, but I’m so thankful to have this opportunity and for the whole experience.
What are some of your artistic influences? What are you currently working on?
Lin-Manuel Miranda is probably one of my biggest artistic influences as a Latinx composer and performer. He has not only created revolutionary and inspiring masterpieces such as Hamilton and In the Heights, but also starred in them, which is basically what I aspire to do. Before knowing about Lin-Manuel, I didn’t think it was possible for that to happen on Broadway, but I’ve seen that musicians like Sara Bareilles, Dave Malloy and Billie Joe Armstrong have gone on to perform in their shows. Other artistic influences include Amber Riley, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Anaïs Mitchell, and Jessica Vosk. At the moment, I am currently trying to finish writing and composing My Elijah, as well as creating other works primarily for musical theatre.
In your opinion, what is your greatest work or moment that you’ve been a part of within your local arts community?
Yikes, do I have to pick just one? I think it would be either creating my EP “Songs from My Elijah” with my sister or performing in Spring Awakening at Inside Out Theatre Company in Sunrise, Florida. Probably the EP more because I was in Philadelphia with my sister, who produced and sang on the EP, and I got to work in a recording studio and meet so many phenomenal musicians and vocalists from my sister’s university.
What do you think of when you hear our motto “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are arts and culture important to our state?
It’s very self-explanatory when you see it. Culture is what makes a civilization, no matter where you go. Arts and culture play a key role in society and I think that without those things, what are we? Arts and culture not only entertains us, but also educates us, informs us, inspires us, and allows us to see things from different angles.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Check out “Songs From My Elijah” on all streaming platforms, follow @myelijah_musical on Instagram and @myelijah on Facebook and be on the lookout for my song, “Days From Long Ago,” on the upcoming #IWriteMusicals 2020 Musical Theatre Songwriting Challenge album!