Review: AMERICAN MARIACHI at Goodman Theatre

Review: AMERICAN MARIACHI at Goodman Theatre

Directed by Henry Godinez, Goodman Theatre’s production of AMERICAN MARIACHI, co-produced with Dallas Theater Center, exudes charm and makes impeccable use of its titular music; the five women who form the all-female American mariachi band in question are all outstanding vocalists. 

Set in the 1970s, José Cruz González’s play sees protagonist Lucha (Tiffany Solano) come into her own as a young Mexican American woman. While trying to finish nursing school and care for her mother Amalia (Gigi Cervantes), who has dementia, Lucha has to balance the tension between her family obligations and her desire to have a fulfilling career. Amalia also has visions of her late Tía Carmen (Eréndira Izguerra), and her music brings back memories. Lucha struggles to keep it all together and ultimately wants to make sure she can bring her mother as much joy as she can in her remaining days.

After Lucha and her best friend and cousin, Boli (the always delightful Lucy Godinez), accidentally break one of Amalia’s beloved records, the two decide to create an all-female mariachi band to recreate the song. Of course, it’s not so easy to do that when they have to turn to Lucha’s estranged family friend Mino (Bobby Plasencia) for help— and keep it all a secret from her strict father Federico (Ricardo Gutiérrez). After a great deal of searching, Lucha and Boli round out their band with shy church choir singer Isabel (Molly Hernández), the eccentric but earnest Gabby (Amanda Raquel Martinez), and salon owner Soyla (Gloria Vivica Benavides). The five women come together to prove that they can master mariachi music — even if the men around them may be determined to stand in their way. 

This is a joyful and vibrant production that, much like the Goodman’s long-awaited season opener SCHOOL GIRLS, puts women front and center.  The five actors in the mariachi band have a wonderful and natural rapport. Solano and Godinez as Lucha and Boli have particularly great chemistry. They make us believe in the strong bond that the two cousins and friends share, even as they’re a study in opposites. Solano plays Lucha with a gentle determination; her interpretation of the role is timid when it needs to be without becoming overly withdrawn. Godinez, on the other hand, leans into Boli’s rebellious nature. Her comedic chops are well suited for the role, but she never goes overboard. Hernández exudes sweetness as Isabel, and she has a crystalline soprano. Benavides appears larger than life as Soyla, but she never allows her character’s opinionated takes to become cliché. Martinez is delightfully earnest as Gabby. Christopher Llewyn Ramirez is also a highlight as Soyla’s cousin Mateo, who swoops in to make the women their signature mariachi suits. 

While AMERICAN MARIACHI’s storyline is straightforward, the play’s use of music makes it special. The Goodman’s production features a four-piece mariachi band including Juan Díes on guitarrón, Victor Pichardo (who also music directs) on violin, Zacbé Pichardo on vihuela and Mexican harp, and Giovanni García on trumpet (at the opening night performance). The band is spectacular, and they’re accompanied at points by Izguerra, Cervantes, and Gutiérrez.

The five women at the play’s center are incredibly vocalists and harmonize beautifully together  — the singing has a real purity and synchronicity to it. The actors also learned the mariachi instruments to play in this production, which makes their performances all the more remarkable. 

Taking all the elements of the production together, AMERICAN MARIACHI is an enchanting celebration of female empowerment and mariachi music.

AMERICAN MARIACHI plays at Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, through October 24, 2021. Tickets start at $25. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Mariachi 

Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com

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