Song and Family – “American Mariachi” at the LATC reviewed

Both funny and poignant, American Mariachi is a beautiful one-act play full of vibrant music and heartfelt emotionality. Presented by The Latino Theater Company and now playing at The Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles, this marvelous show runs through June 9, 2024 and should not be missed!

Written by José Cruz González, directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela, and featuring an on-stage mariachi band (performing original arrangements by music director Cynthia Reifler Flores), the show is receiving a handsome Los Angeles premiere by one of L.A.’s finest theater companies.

Smoke, a lace-shrouded catwalk, dead roses and ghostly video footage of the mariachi musicians looming on the high, upstage cyclorama lend the play a hauntingly mythical flavor that complements the tender themes of love and loss.

It’s the 1970s and Lucha Morales (played by Elia Saldaña) has put her own dreams of gaining a degree in nursing on hold to care for her mother Amalia Morales (played by Ruth Livier) who is clouded by a dementia-induced fog. Her father Federico Morales (Sal López) is a typical patriarch of the times, insisting that Lucha’s primary responsibilities are to her mother and her family, demanding she observe ‘his way or the highway.’ Distressed at the loss of connection with his beloved partner, Federico frequently lashes out in anger; something else that Lucha has to contend with.

Sal López and Ruth Livier
Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography.

Suspecting that an old folk song her mother used to adore might unlock her memory, Lucha goes against expectations to form an all-female mariachi band and together the plucky women attempt to learn to perform the lost tune. This charming play by González follows the journey of this motley group of young Latinas who learn music despite facing skepticism and opposition from their families and community. Significantly, the tradition of mariachi is passed down from father to son – not daughter – and so the additional challenge is to find someone to assist with their quest. Perhaps help is closer to home than Lucha realizes?

Elia Saldana, Sal López, Ruth Livier,
Esperanza América and Geoffrey Rivas
Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography.

Director Jose Luis Valenzuela pitches the tone of the play towards broad comedy, which results in some performances feeling a bit over-the-top. Esperanza América is fantastic as the strident and tomboy-ish toughie Boli, providing a nice foil for the conflicted Lucha, whose central performance holds more nuance. Sal López as the anguished patriarch Federico mainly vacillates from grief to anger. Ruth Livier is wonderful as the afflicted mother, breaking our hearts with her vividly-rendered mental decline. Fidel Gómez, who plays six characters that are all convincing and well-delineated, is the hardest-working performer of the night, expertly switching characters (and costumes) in the blink of an eye. Of note is the ethereal character of Tía Carmen (expertly performed by Yalitza “Yaya” Vasquez-Lopez), a long-dead female mariachi musician. A brilliant violinist from Amalia’s memories, and clad in a voluminous black gown, this Latine performer dramatically haunts the stage. The rest of the cast – especially the professional mariachi musicians – are fabulous.

One of the most striking aspects of American Mariachi is its celebration of the mariachi tradition and its significance within Mexican-American culture. Playwright González expertly weaves together the history of mariachi music with the personal stories of each of the characters, creating a narrative that is both instructive and deeply emotional. Through lively musical performances and poignant moments of reflection, the play highlights the importance of preserving cultural heritage while also embracing innovation and change.

The characters in American Mariachi are richly drawn and relatable, each grappling with their own hopes, dreams, and obstacles. From the determined and passionate Lucha to the skeptical yet ultimately supportive Boli (Esperanza América), the ensemble cast brings depth and authenticity to their roles, capturing the complexities of family dynamics and the bonds that unite them. As the women navigate the challenges of pursuing their musical aspirations within a male-dominated industry, they confront issues of gender inequality and cultural identity with courage and resilience.

Elia Saldana and Ruth Livier
Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

The setting of the play, a small community in 1970s Southern California, is vividly evoked through period-appropriate costumes (by Maria Catarina Copelli) and haunting scenic design (by Maureen Weiss). The music itself serves as a powerful backdrop, transporting the audience to the lively streets of Mexico and the vibrant dance halls of East Los Angeles. Whether performing traditional mariachi songs or creating their own original compositions, the characters’ love for music shines through, inspiring both joy and introspection.

At its heart, American Mariachi is a story about the transformative power of music to bridge divides and bring people together. Through their shared passion for mariachi, the characters discover strength, friendship, and a sense of belonging that transcends cultural barriers. As they defy expectations and pursue their dreams, they inspire audiences to embrace their own unique identities and celebrate the richness of diversity.

Overall, American Mariachi is a moving and uplifting theatrical experience that resonates with authenticity. With its captivating performances, poignant storytelling, and infectious musical energy, this beautiful comedy-drama is a testament to the enduring legacy of mariachi music and the persistent spirit of the human heart.

American Mariachi by José Cruz González is a vibrant and heartfelt exploration of culture, family, and the power of music. Don’t miss this show!

American Mariachi

Latino Theater Company presents American Mariachi, a big-hearted, feel-good comedy with live music about familia, amor and tradición. It’s the 1970s and women can’t be mariachis…or can they? Lucha spends her days caring for her mother and yearning for more. Defying expectations, Lucha and her spunky cousin hunt for bandmates and take up instruments. A loving gesture for a mother becomes much more as the young women dream big and embrace the transcendent power of music.

• Written by José Cruz González
• Original music arrangements and music director: Cynthia Reifler Flores
• Directed Jose Luis Valenzuela
• Starring Esperanza América, Vaneza Mari Calderón, Alicia Coca, Fidel Gómez, Crissy Guerrero, Ruth Livier, Sal López, Geoffrey Rivas, Elia Saldaña, Yalitza Yaya Vasquez-Lopez
• Produced by Latino Theater Company

Performances: May 11–June 9, 2024
• Thursdays at 8 p.m.: May 16; May 23; May 30; June 6
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: May 17; May 24; May 31; June 7
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: May 18; May 25; June 1; June 8
• Sundays at 4 p.m.: May 5 (preview); May 12; May 19; May 26; June 2; June 9

The Los Angeles Theatre Center

514 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles CA 90013

• $8 with box office validation at Los Angeles Garage Associate Parking structure, 545 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90013 (between 5th and 6th Streets, just behind the theater)
• Metered parking available on streets surrounding the theater.
• Take the Metro: nearest stop is Pershing Square (two blocks west of The LATC)


• Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays : $48.00
• Students, Seniors, Veterans and LAUSD teachers: $20.00 with valid ID
• All Thursday night performances and previews: $10.00

Purchase tickets here or call (213) 489-0994

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


Follow us

Follow ArtsBeat LA on social media for the latest arts news.