Eleven years ago, singer-songwriter and producer April Aguilera’s world came crashing down the moment she heard the words no parent ever wants to hear - “your newborn daughter Paloma has Down Syndrome.”
Over a decade later, guilt-ridden about her reaction to the unexpected diagnosis, Aguilera has composed a 45-minute, one-woman acoustic musical that she will perform at 8 p.m. at the historic Savannah Theatre on Sat., Jan. 22 as a “love letter” to her daughter.
The musical, “A Sea Full of Stars,” which made its debut in New York City at the Emerging Artists Theatre in 2019, will also serve as a fundraiser to help complete post-production of a short film, “For Paloma,” which is tied to the musical and written and produced by Aguilera.
“For Paloma,” will hit the 2022 film festival circuit later this year and follows Aguilera as she travels back in time to the birth of her daughter in pursuit of a do-over. The film aims to show audiences a humanized and realistic portrayal of a side of motherhood not often seen.
“I grew up in a really musical family and I traveled as a singer-songwriter up until Paloma was born,” Aguilera said. “So, music and writing songs has always been a big part of me. When Paloma was born and we received the diagnosis, it was a very dark time. I was heartbroken and devastated and I know that I didn’t hold her very much. I have a lot of guilt that as a newborn baby she probably didn’t receive the comfort she should have from her mom.”
With a heavy heart, Aguilera says she originally wrote the song “A Sea Full of Stars” after leaving the hospital with Paloma but creatively she lost her ability to write the rest of the musical.
“I tried to write another song called ‘A Silent Night’ and I could never really finish it…I wanted to encompass all of the feelings that I felt when Paloma was born - the fear, the heartbreak, but at the time I just couldn’t write anymore.”
Aguilera added that she didn’t touch her guitar for almost a decade.
“It took me almost a decade to pick up my guitar and write another song,” she said. “In 2019, I started singing that original song and after those first few chords I started talking about her birth and I realized ‘wow this song is a story not just a song.’ So,I finished the song and the rest of the musical that same day.”
Told through monologs and songs, Aguilera says the musical covers three very tough days in the hospital and explores the depths of emotion in her journey towards acceptance.
“The show really talks about wishing I could go back and re-welcome her. If I would have known how beautiful my life has been because of her it would have been a party because everything with Paloma has been one magical thing after the next.”
“I feel like so often in the disability community there’s almost like an expiration date on how long we’re able to say ‘ wow the diagnosis really hurt..or life is difficult sometimes when you have a child that is disabled,’ she continued. “I do hope that my show does give permission to show parents that it’s okay to still hurt a little bit and it’s okay to cut yourself a little bit of slack for those feelings.”
Although Aguilera is looking forward to sharing her raw, emotional journey, she says she’s still a bit nervous about opening up to the rest of the world.
“As a creative person, it’s kind of a double-edged sword. For us, it’s hard to share something that we’re very passionate about. But at the same time, we need to share it. My friends at the Savannah Theatre have been so gracious to allow me to perform ‘A Sea Full of Stars’ and I am so very excited to share this special piece with you.”
Musical director Andrew Sovine will also be on stage with Aguilera in addition to her oldest daughter who will be playing the cello.
“I am so excited to have my oldest daughter on stage as well as Andrew as our musical director. He is also leading the team on the music for, ‘For Paloma.’ We are using the original songs from my show for the film and he’s been a huge part of this entire project.”
For more information or to purchase tickets visit eventbrite.com and search for “A Sea Full of Stars.”