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ASU musical production illuminates family relationships, immigrant stories

Illustration of car driving into a sunset.

Arizona State University’s Music Theatre and Opera program will present the Arizona premiere of “Miss You Like Hell” on Nov. 17–19. The musical follows an imaginative teenage girl who embarks on a cross-country road trip with her free-spirited mother, who is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Courtesy image

November 15, 2023

Arizona State University’s Music Theatre and Opera program will present the Arizona premiere of “Miss You Like Hell” on Nov. 17–19.

The musical follows an imaginative teenage girl who embarks on a cross-country road trip with her free-spirited mother, who is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

At the heart of the story is a mother-daughter relationship complicated by immigration policies. Chance encounters with a variety of characters along the way bring the two closer to understanding what sets them apart and what connects them forever.

With book and lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes and music and lyrics by Erin McKeown, the musical first premiered in 2016. Hudes has also written “In the Heights” and “Water by the Spoonful,” for which she won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Described by The New York Times as “powerful and complex” and “a fresh take on the American road story, filled with people and ideas we rarely get to see onstage,” the musical features wide-ranging styles of original songs that exude the joy, love and frustration of being a family in a changing country.

Composer Erin McKeown will be on campus for the production and will work with students from multiple areas including music theatre, composition, dramatic writing and the popular music program.

“’Miss You Like Hell’ is unique in that this production involves faculty, students and staff working together from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre,” said Brian DeMaris, professor and artistic director of ASU Music Theatre and Opera.

DeMaris said “Miss You Like Hell” was selected to be part of the Music Theatre and Opera season by a collaborative process.

“Each year we welcome submissions of suggested titles from anyone on campus and work with our faculty, staff and Student Leadership Team for a nearly six-month process to select titles and creative teams for our productions,” DeMaris said.

Anyone can suggest titles for the season, said DeMaris, and the final titles are chosen based on a series of pedagogical goals determined by the faculty. He said the team reads and carefully considers every submission, and faculty and students work together to choose a final season that best suits the pedagogical needs of the students the school serves from across multiple programs.

Cast members are a mixture of undergraduate and graduate students from multiple music and theater programs within the school. In addition to Music Theatre and Opera production staff, technical staff include set design by Alfredo Escarcega, production manager at ASU Gammage, lighting designer Dani Deutschmann, sound designer Jade Barger and several theater design and production students.

“Both of my parents are immigrants who came to the United States from Latin America, and getting to be a part of a show that not only highlights the immigrant experience but also spotlights Latino culture has been vastly rewarding,” said Jose Antonio Guevara (who plays Manuel), who is earning a Bachelor of Music in music learning and teaching, with an emphasis in trumpet pedagogy. “My hope is that I am able to honor my Latin American roots in this production in a way that uplifts the ASU School of Music, Dance and Theatre and helps to show the rich culture and experience that every student brings to this school.”

“As a young Latina woman/artist, I feel so excited to see someone like myself being represented on the stage with a real story,” said Angelica Santana (who plays Olivia), who is earning a Bachlor of Arts in theatre and a minor in music theatre. “The topics and conversations in this musical can sometimes hit close to home. While these topics can be heavy and uncomfortable for some to hear, I think it is so incredibly important to not ignore these issues that are still happening today. I feel that it is a reminder to everyone about the families everywhere struggling and fighting every day.” 

Marissa Barnathan, who is earning a master's degree in directing, is the first student to direct a musical during the music theater and opera season. The production serves as part of Barnathan’s final thesis applied project. David Radamés Toro, assistant professor of musical theater and opera direction, serves as faculty artistic advisor, along with Barnathan’s thesis committee members.

Barnathan has an extensive background in dance and theater as a professional actor, dancer and choreographer. As part of her research, Barnathan will be surveying audience members about their experience, as well as holding talkbacks after each performance to understand the impact of the show on attendees.      

“My vision for the musical centers on one of Olivia's lines at the end of the play, ‘We are not rafts. We are not even islands. We are the ocean,’’’ Barnathan said. “I hope the audience leaves the musical feeling more connected both to their own family members and to their fellow community members, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or immigration status. I also hope the audience feels more empathetic to the struggles of undocumented immigrants.” 

“Miss You Like Hell”

Nov. 17–18, 7:30 p.m.
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

Nov. 19, 2 p.m.
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre


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