Writer and Director Tony Taccone was backstage with Tony Award winner John Leguizamo during the Broadway run of the acclaimed "Latin History for Morons" when it first came up.
Leguizamo, who wanted to re-examine and explore his own history, approached Taccone about a play he had written nearly two decades ago.
It would come to be known as "Kiss My Aztec!"
"He exhumed it from his trunk," Taccone, who wrote the book for the play-turned-musical, with Leguizamo, recalled in an interview with NBC 7 San Diego.
Leguizamo asked Taccone if he'd take a look at the play with him. Taccone agreed.
"At the time," Taccone recalled. "I thought it was a very interesting but gangly, all over the map, but really fun, fax Elizabethan fictional adventure."
"Kiss My Aztec!" tells the story of a 16th Century group of ragtag Aztecs leading the resistance against the Spanish. Taccone and Leguizamo wrote the book; Benjamin Velez wrote the music and David Kamp, Benjamin Velez and Leguizamo collaborated on lyrics.
The musical then went through a radical reshaping process, as Taccone calls it: a workshop at New York's Public Theater, a world premiere at The Berkeley Repertory Theater (where Taccone works as the current artistic director) and now, a second staging at La Jolla Playhouse.
But it didn't happen right away.
Taccone and Leguizamo collaborated on the play over the years and transformed it into a musical. The pair shared writing duties, handing off drafts to each other to rewrite.
"We changed almost everything," Taccone said. "Every possible way you can change a play, we did. It wasn't just a subtle 'let's move this over here.' It was a complete makeover."
During those rewrites, Taccone kept on his directing hat - at least in part. He wanted to let the musical stay messy and undefined for a while before he took a look at the piece as a director would.
"You're always envisioning what it would look like, how it would move," Taccone explained. "You're always thinking about what the motor is for the show: what's driving the dramatic engine, what's the visual excitement of the piece."
The musical isn't the same piece that had its world premiere at Berkeley Rep, Taccone said. The creative team worked for two weeks ahead of the September premiere at La Jolla Playhouse rewriting the musical to re-stage songs, cut songs, add in a back story and more.
"We have a great cast, and we were able to go, 'this, this, this and this,'" Taccone said. "We've gone after it; we've changed a bunch of stuff."
Even after all this time and work, Taccone said, one of his favorite things about "Kiss My Aztec!" is that it is unlike anything audiences have ever seen.
"You'll see it, right from the first second of the first song, you will see it," Taccone said. "It is fresh. It is original. It is going for a satirical perspective that feels unique."
It's one of those feelings you get as an audience member or someone working on the piece, Taccone said: you know a fresh voice when you see it. "Kiss My Aztec!" has a spirit to it, Taccone said, both in the language and the style of the musical.
"It's set in 1540, but it never loses the total consciousness that you are sitting here, right this second, here and now, being spoken to, now, about what's happening then," Taccone said.
When Taccone first started working in theater more than 40 years ago (he commissioned the original production of "Angels in America"), the goal was to wake people up and expose the dark underbelly of society.
Now, in 2019, that perspective has shifted, Taccone said. Now, people are so aware of the darkness in the world that bringing joy into audience's lives is the goal.
"We all feel a little bit less empowered in our own lives," Taccone said. "The things that we can do to remind ourselves that we have the capacity to change, the capacity to move things forward, some way that we can see each other and empathize with each other, that's a pretty good thing to be working on right now."
"Kiss My Aztec!" runs at La Jolla Playhouse from Sept. 3 to Oct. 13, 2019. To get tickets, click here.