(Photo by Jordan Kubat/SCR)
Written by Patrick Chavis
I can’t say I know much about Mariachi music. I couldn’t name you a popular performer off the top of my head if I tried. Still, I’ve grown up in California my entire life and have been exposed to allot of Mexican culture. If you haven’t seen a Mariachi group by chance when walking into a Mexican restaurant, chances are you heard Mariachi on the occasions you accidently click the car radio to a Mexican station — hearing those strong trumpets on your speakers is usually the indicator. From what I picked up from this play American Mariachi. Mariachi is all about emotion, tradition and the friendships among musicians playing together to produce a harmony that is authentically Mariachi.
American Mariachi, now playing at South Coast Repertory, is a heartwarming, harmonious, if not slightly generic, play featuring powerhouse performances from talented actresses that’s crazy entertaining.
American Mariachi is a play set in the ’70s and centered around the character Lucha Morales played by Gabriella Carrillo. Lucha’s mother, Amalia, played by Diana Burbano, has developed some type of memory loss. Sometimes, she doesn’t even recognize her own daughter or husband.
Lucha discovers playing old Mariachi music Amalia listened to in the past helps her mother remember. Lucha goes on a quest with a group of friends she gathers to start an all-women Mariachi band. The bands mission to play music for her mother and prove that women can also be great Mariachi’s. Along the way, the band runs into challenges that really test these performers.
There’s so much I enjoyed about this play, but at the same time, I’ve seen this formula before. American Mariachi is not traveling into new territory. This is an underdog comedy narrative. You’ve seen it in the hit movies like Sister Act, which came out in the ’90s. Now even though the formula in this show is familiar, everything else about this production is culturally and, more importantly, musically original to this piece, and that’s where the script really shines.
The musical performances from the cast and the great chemistry among the actresses really bring a fun, atmosphere to every situation transpiring during this production. You’re brought on a journey with this cast, and you get to grow with the group. They go from barely being able to play a few notes to playing and singing songs that could honestly tear you up.
Alicia Coca’s, who plays Isabel Campos, vocal performance is gorgeous. Diana Burbano is a highlight when delivering the dual performances of Amalia and one of my favorite characters — the gun-toting, Dona Lola that had much of the audience cracking up.
The direction in this show really ties it together. Director Christopher Acebo really keeps things moving but also keeps the focus on the characters. All the scenes and transitions were smooth and effortless throughout the entire runtime.