American Mariachi Review – A Serenade to Change

Elia Saldana, Ruth Livier, Esperanza America, and cast in AMERICAN MARIACHI - Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography
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The Latino Theater Company presents the Los Angeles premiere of AMERICAN MARIACHI in 2024. Penned by Jose Cruz Gonzalez, the big-hearted comedy with live music and a compassionate take on memory, AMERICAN MARIACHI made its world premiere in 2018 to critical acclaim at San Diego’s Old Globe in association with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The San Diego Union-Tribune described the production as “A vibrant ode to music and memory, while the Denver Post called AMERICAN MARIACHI “a big-hearted musical play…a warm family saga – a story at once personal and universal.” 

Elia Saldana, Vaneza Mari Calderon, and Esperanza America – Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

Set in the 1970s (with some forays into past events), AMERICAN MARIACHI tells the tale of a group of women who want to develop the first all-female mariachi band – at a time when only men were permitted to play the traditional tunes of Mexico. The crazy idea first forms in Lucha Morales’ head. Lucha (Elia Saldana) has been faithfully taking care of her mother Amalia (Ruth Livier) – who is slowly sinking into dementia – when she sees a spark of the old Mom when mariachi music plays. Especially a love song written just for Amalia by her Mariachi husband Federico (Sal Lopez). Perhaps the magic of music will jog Amalia’s buried memories and bring her back to her loving family. When Lucha presents the idea of forming an all-female band to her cousin Boli (Esperanza America), the plan seems impossible and bizarre, a road to nowhere. Where will they find other band members? Instruments? Training? But these ladies do not lack for persistence. Gradually, other women (Vaneza Mari Calderon, Alicia Coca, Crissy Guerrero) with their own issues rally around Lucha and Boli. Maybe this revolutionary plan isn’t such a bad idea after all!

Ruth Livier and Yalitza “Yaya” Vasquez-Lopez – Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

Skillfully directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela with musical direction and original musical arrangements by Cynthia Reifler Flores, AMERICAN MARIACHI has a powerful message to females – and families – everywhere. The talented cast does an excellent job of demonstrating what talent, persistence, creativity, sheer luck, and love of family can accomplish. Compassion, the power of music to stimulate memory – and the emerging women’s lib of the 70s – are irrepressible as the ladies rise to every challenge to reach their goal.

Elia Saldana, Crissy Guerrero, Ruth Livier, and Alicia Coca – Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

Kudos also to the production team, including Maureen Weiss’ scenic design, Maria Catarina Copelli’s costumes, Pablo Santiago’s lighting, John Zalewski’s sound, and Urbanie Lucero’s choreography. And let’s not forget about the Mariachis behind so much of that traditional music: Luis Bernal, Manhe Martinez, Oscar Rival, Joseph Ruvalcava, and Juan Miguel Sossa Ropain. Without them, this would certainly have been a bland – and very quiet – production. AMERICAN MARIACHI is a lively, energetic peek at how change comes about – at first feared and then embraced – even in the most traditional of societies. Perhaps the show might have benefited from a bit of tightening – but it still made it points vividly and poignantly.

A Mariachi Band for Today – Serenading the Audience – Photo by Elaine L. Mura

AMERICAN MARIACHI runs through June 9, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and at 4 p.m. on Sundays. The Latino Theater Company performs at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514. S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Tickets range from $10 to $48 (students, seniors, veterans, and LAUSD teachers $20; Thursday night performances $10). For information and reservations, go online.


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