Meet the Cast of "American Mariachi"

Tania Thompson
 | Aug 27, 2019
The Cast of American Mariachi
THE CAST (clockwise from top left): Sol Castillo, Andrew Joseph Perez, Sayra Michelle Haro, Diana Burbano, Mauricio Mendoza, Luzma Ortiz, Satya Jnani Chavez, Gabriela Carrillo, Alicia Coca and Marlene Montes. Not pictured: Esteban Montoya Dagnino, Antonio A. Pró, Ali Pizarro and Adam Ramirez.

To bring to life the 1970s mariachi-infused world of José Cruz González’s big-hearted comedy, American Mariachi, nine actors plus five musicians are hard at work in rehearsals. In addition to learning the script, the actors are learning to play, or deepening their skills playing instruments and the mariachi musicians are learning to be actors. They are all madly in love with this story about dreaming big, empowerment, family, love and discovering the transcendent power of music. Read on to meet the cast.


Diana Burbano
I portray
Amalia Morales and Doña Lola (I also portrayed these characters in the recent Arizona Theatre Company production).
My SCR credits include
Imagine and The Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy.
Among the plays I’ve written are Ghosts of Bogota, Policarpa, Fabulous Monsters, Caliban’s Island and Linda.
American Mariachi speaks to me because of the glory of having 14 Latinx performers on stage! Often, in theatre, we are “the only one,” so it’s wonderful to be working with this fierce and talented group.
I’m most delighted by losing myself in the music, much like my character does; plus, being able to sing with a mariachi group is a dream come true. There is nothing like singing with live musicians.
The opportunity ​for me being in this show is having kids see me onstage and think, ‘Hey, she reminds me of my mom. My mom’s story is important, too.​' To see your own people onstage is an emotional necessity.
My favorite song is David Bowie’s Heroes. The first time I heard it, I was walking past a record store in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. The song was playing and I was compelled to stop. I felt my entire life shift in that one moment: that voice, that yearning. I felt like he understood who I needed to be.


Gabriela Carrillo
I portray
Lucha Morales.
This is my SCR debut.
My other credits include The Prince of Egypt, Chess and UMPO: A League of Their Own. I’m also a songwriter and original music artist.
I’m absolutely thrilled to be playing violin again. It was my first instrument; I first began lessons at age 3, but, as my ​interests branched out and other priorities beckoned, I played less and less as an adult. The fact that I get to reconnect with the instrument in the context of expressing pride for my culture and telling a story that is dear to my heart is so special. But, playing violin again for an audience is certainly bringing out my perfectionist streak! It’s been fun to embrace that feeling of shaking off the dust.
American Mariachi speaks to me because I am a first-generation Mexican-American; my father is ​from M​exico City and moved here when he was 11. The Mexican-American experience is a unique one and it feels special to share this story of a first-generation child of immigrants finding herself in a world where she may feel torn between two cultures. The struggle between female empowerment and Latino machismo that often goes unquestioned or unopposed is something I can certainly identify with as a young Latina in the 21st century. My character, Lucha, has a deep connection to her family and culture through the vessel of music and that’s another thing I deeply resonate with. No important gathering of Latinos is complete without the appropriate music and, as such, music becomes a potent memory trigger. The specific genre of music that is important to each family may differ, but the experience is the same.
My favorite song is La Vida Es Un Carnaval by Celia Cruz. She was always my favorite artist and we played that song in my household. I have countless memories of learning to dance with my father to that song and now, as an adult, the lyrics mean so much to me. I listen to it whenever I miss home, need to cheer up or feel encouraged. This is a great line from the song: “No, there’s no need to cry/life is a carnival/it’s more beautiful to live it singing.”


Sol Castillo
I portray
Mino Avila and Padres Flores.
My SCR credits include A Christmas Carol (Fred), The Night Fairy, The Hollow Lands and La Posada Mágica.
My other credits include American Mariachi (Arizona Theatre Company), Veteranos: A Legacy of Valor (national tour), Zoot Suit, Quixote Nuevo, The Realm of the Maya, Sunsets and Margaritas and Of Mice and Men.
American Mariachi speaks to me because it’s the story of a family's love. There are so many elements to a family history and great friendships that are like family are ingrained in this show. The story isn't just an American-Mexican story, but a totally American story. Full of love and joy of family and the music made together.
I’ve had so much fun working on the music. Mariachi music has been a part of my own family’s history. Some of my family came from Jalisco, where mariachi was born. I listened to it as a child, and as I grew and now I get to play it because of this show. I've met so many great musicians who have helped me to learn the songs, as my character, Mino, says, "The proper way."
Of course there are some challenges. This role is one of the first where I haven't played a kid, or a teenager; I portray a man who was married, suffered great losses, is a teacher and a professional musician. I am able to use my own life experiences in this show. Plus, I get to learn how to play mariachi music. Three years ago, I did a workshop for this play in Denver and I fell in love with the vihuela, the instrument I play in the show. I own one now and I play just about every day.
Do I have a favorite song? That’s a tough one. There are so many songs to choose from in so many genres. I am a fan of music—all kinds. I've often said that it's a big world with so many beautiful sounds, why limit my ears to just one path? So I have so many favorite genres of music and am finding more. But, since we're talking about mariachi, I would have to say, anything by Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán or Javier Solis. Sorry. That doesn't narrow it down, does it?!


Satya Jnani Chavez
I portray
Hortensia “Boli” Perez.
This is my SCR debut.
My other credits include American Mariachi (Arizona Theatre Company), Life on Paper, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Jesus Christ Superstar, A Christmas Carol, New Faces, You Across From Me, Soul of the World and The Happiest Song Plays Last.
American Mariachi speaks to me because the representation is so profound and so necessary. It manages to tell a very universal story while opening up conversations about mental illness, what it means to be Mexican-American in the U.S., and the mere fact that Latinas exist in all shapes and sizes and have varying experiences that define who they are—we aren’t all stereotypical “sexy, spicy, spitfires.” We’re also representing body diversity, gender expression, the LGBTQ community, mariachi music and the iconic Dolores Huerta.
What I love most about working on this show are the people. Every single person I have met related to this show has not only been fiercely talented but also fiercely generous. The musicians help the actors master their instruments, and the actors help the musicians feel comfortable acting on stage. From director to designer to stage manager to fellow actor, these people show so much generosity: with their time, energy, patience, talent, joy, words of affirmation, vulnerability, car rides, chisme, gritos, nonstop live mariachi music, trips to In-N-Out, sharing pan dulces and endless guidance. Being at the receiving end of so much generosity reminds me just how valuable and necessary it is to always extend a hand back when you are being pulled forward.
But it’s hard work. Mariachi. Music. Is. So. Challenging. Rhythms and strum patterns can change in the middle of phrases, which is super-hard to wrap your brain around at first. And I never would have understood the intricacies rooted in this music’s tradition without our music director, Cynthia Reifler Flores. This experience is constantly teaching me about the history of my culture and, for me, that knowledge is truly invaluable. Also, to be completely transparent, there isn’t enough LatinX work being produced in our industry. And to be a part of this show, at an institution as prestigious as South Coast Repertory, is a massive opportunity to prove just how capable, ready and hungry we are to share our stories. I hope it inspires theatres across the world to invest in our communities.
My anthem is Bilingue by Snow Tha Product. This song is about embracing being Mexican and American and celebrating how badass it is to have dual identities, while giving a million shout-outs to how amazing Mexican food is. And, on top of all of that, it has the sickest beat. Snow sings so effortlessly and confidently and she puts words to all of the complex feelings I’ve had about navigating my sense of belonging. At the beginning of the song, she says, “Yo ni soy de aqui ni soy de alla (I’m not from here or there)”, but eventually she says “Yo si soy de aqui y soy de alla (I’m from here and I’m from there).” Just a little reminder that we get to claim it all and that my Mexican-ness is a freaking superpower!


Alicia Coca
I portray
Isabel Campos.
This is my SCR debut.
My other credits include American Mariachi (Arizona Theatre Company), Pippin, Heathers The Musical and La Virgen de Guadaloupe: Dios Inantzin.
American Mariachi is so powerful because it has allowed me to connect with my culture in a way that I never have before. Throughout my life, I heard mariachi music at weddings, funerals and parties. It was the background music to my life and childhood memories. But doing this show and learning to play the music has been such a privilege. It’s ​the kind of music that you didn’t know was sadly missing from your daily life until you’re playing it every day. And, of course, I also have to mention José’s beautifully strong Latina protagonists. The arc of the show highlights women’s empowerment in a way that I’ve never seen before. Our characters—Lucha, Boli, Gabby, Amalia, Soyla and Isabel—show the many different sides of the Latina experience that are not often articulated in theatre. And I can’t wait for people to see these characters unapologetically shine on the stage.
I was floored hearing the music actually being played live for the first time; that was highly emotional. Early on in rehearsal, when we were still practicing without our professional mariachis, we had to brush over the parts in the show where they enter and play. But finally, hearing the mariachis play live in our rehearsal space sent a wave of emotion and memory over those of us who relate ​these songs to significant moments in our lives. Hearing El Son de la Negra live in rehearsal for the first time brought tears to my eyes ​because I saw myself, at the age of 10, dancing to that song in my baile folklórico class. As José Cruz González reminds us in his brilliant dialogue, “music is memory.”
It’s humbling ​to learn to play an instrument that you’ve never touched before ​during a 3-week rehearsal period. I had the pleasure of going through the learning process ​with the production of American Mariachi at Arizona Theatre Company and, at that point, I had never touched a trumpet before in my life. Now, at South Coast Repertory, I have experienced the brand new challenge of trying to improve my abilities and fine-tune what I learned previously because I’m not starting from square one this time (Thank God!). I’m so grateful for the opportunity to rediscover my character of Isabel and hopefully make her a better trumpet player this time around!
One song that’s really meaningful to me is Como La Flor by Selena y Los Dinos. I can attribute my singing style to several artists that I listened to religiously as a child, such as, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keyes and Selena. This song takes me back to sitting in the backseat of the family car, listening to a Selena album blast through the speakers. Those were the moments where I learned how to sing and develop my own abilities. So, thank you to my parents for putting up with their five-year-old singing her heart out in the backseat!


Sayra Michelle Haro
I portray
Tia Carmen, but I also am a mariachi violinist.
This is my debut as an actor.
I love American Mariachi for how it speaks about when being part of a mariachi band used to be something inappropriate for women. Mariachis used to be viewed as drunks and mujeriegos and now we know it to be really something much more elegant.
I love working with the people here! They are great—these new experiences are amazing and I’ve never been a part of anything quite like this.
Yes, it’s challenging because this is my first ​time working in a theatre production. I’m looking forward to leaving my comfort zone and being on a stage in a way that’s different from what I usually do as a mariachi violinist.
A song that I love is Las rejas no matan. It’s meaningful to me because it wasn’t long ago that I was introduced to Javier Solis’s music through someone who has now become a huge part of my life and my best friend. ​Solis has changed my style musically and, in general, has become my favorite mariachi singer.


Mauricio Mendoza
I portray
Federico Morales and Chuy “Pepe” Bravo.
My other SCR credits include Destiny of Desire and La Posada Mágica.
My other credits include In the Heights, Into the Woods, Zoot Suit, West Side Story, Man of La Mancha, Evita, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, “Resurrection Blvd.”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Last Man on Earth,” The Rookie,” “Days of Our Lives,” “NCIS” and Ladrones.
I love how American Mariachi portrays the relationship between ​the father and daughter and how it stresses the importance of maintaining healthy communication in a familia.
It’s great to be working again with José Cruz González, whom I’ve known since I was in my 20s. I was part of his rewrite of American Mariachi in 2012 and to see where the play is now is quite amazing. It’s such a pleasure to be part of his journey as a writer.
The most challenging thing for me was learning to play the guitar—but I’m loving it! My mother and brother both play the guitar, so for me to now play it brings me even closer to their passion. As an artist, I’m always amazed to be part of the history of new works in the theatre; I like that because you can’t be compared to anyone in the part yet because it hasn’t been seen by the masses and that’s exciting to me!
My favorite song is This is the Moment from Jekyll & Hyde the musical. It’s meaningful to me because it reminds me of how special every new moment is: like my marriage, my child being born ​or the first day of a job. Every challenge in life comes with a growing and wonderful moment. I track my life by these moments: I was born in Davis, Calif., to parents who were from Colombia. We moved to Colombia when I was 3 years old and then returned to Davis when I was 12. After high school, I moved to San Diego and then moved to Los Angeles 25 years ago.


Marlene Montes
I portray
Soyla Reyna and Sister Manuela.
This is my SCR debut.
My other credits include American Mariachi (Arizona Theatre Company), In the Heights, Legally Blonde, Gypsy, Cabaret, South Pacific, Tommy, Miss Saigon, The Full Monty, The Marvelous Wonderettes and The Pajama Game.
American Mariachi resonates with me on so many levels. I saw it at The Old Globe and was in tears realizing that it was the first time I saw a show that told MY story, my family’s story. What deeply resonates with me is women’s journey to find their voice and their struggle to know where they fit in. When I did the show before, the most impactful moments came when people would share their life experiences and how they connected to the characters and their stories.
It’s personal to me because I grew up with a father who discouraged me ​from speaking Spanish and told me that I was not to refer to myself as a Mexican, but as an American of Hispanic descent. This was frustrating because my mom was born in Mexico and her side of the family primarily spoke Spanish. I never knew where I fit in and I experienced discrimination on both sides as a result. I think that my story is actually many people’s story and that they’ll see themselves represented in American Mariachi.
I love working with this team of artists and musicians ​who are so wonderfully diverse and multi-talented! It has been an absolute privilege to work with the director Christopher Acebo and with the heartbeat of the show, playwright José Cruz González. Also, having the insight into the mariachi world and instruction from Cindy Reifler Flores, our music director, has been an honor. I love mariachi music. We are working with the best and I couldn’t have dreamt of a better team of people to work with!
My biggest accomplishment has been learning to play the vihuela and transforming into a mariachi!
My anthem right now is Lauren Daigle’s song You Say. The song is about identity and a reminder that I am strong, worthy and loved. This song grounds me and reminds me what voice defines me ​and where my strength comes from. In addition, I fell in love with mariachi music after listening to Linda Ronstadt’s album Canciones de mi Padre. I learned to sing in Spanish before I even knew what I was singing. Mariachi music feels like home and deeply moves me.


Luzma Ortiz
I portray
Gabby Orozco.
My previous SCR credit includes Nate the Great (Theatre for Young Audiences).
My other credits include American Mariachi (Arizona Theatre Company), Dora the Explorer Live! (national tour), In the Heights, Man of La Mancha, The Goodby Girl, West Side Story, Ragtime and Noises Off.
American Mariachi speaks to me in a lot of ways. Not only did I grow up in a musical household, like the one in our show, but the topic of music as a source of healing was a common one. My father would come home from playing in homes for seniors, rehabilitation centers or hospitals ​and shares countless stories about how his music-playing ​brought a smile to someone who hadn’t smiled in months or how someone who suffered from memory loss suddenly knew the words to a song he would play. I have personally witnessed this and it’s a beautiful thing.
The most delight in working on this show is the bonding, and new friendships, that develops from working so closely together. Plus, on this show we had the amazing opportunity to get to work directly with the playwright during the first week of rehearsal. We were able to process the information of the play together and contribute our own thoughts and questions about the journey of each character and relationship in the story. José [Cruz González] would take notes on all of the conversations and then the next day, he came back with new pages that were edited to reflect many of the discoveries that came from our discussions. It was truly amazing to be valued and trusted to be a part of that process with him.
My biggest challenge on this show is playing my instruments and singing at the same time. HAHA!! I can do both of these things separately, no problem​; but putting them together…that’s a whole other story. This show is letting me check off several boxes for me as an artist: I get to debut and perform at the Segerstrom Stage at SCR, portray a Latina character, share something of the American-Latino experience with audiences and learn to play two instruments and sing! How cool is that?! It really is a gift to get to be a part of this show.
A song that is part of the soundtrack of my life is Mi Tierra by Gloria Estefan. It holds a lot of happy and beautiful memories for me: when I hear it, I can see my entire family, immediate and extended, together singing and dancing at one of our many family gatherings and parties. I specifically remember dancing to this song at my Quinceañera with all of my Tios, Tias, Primos and Abuelos. We really know how to party!


Andrew Joseph Perez
I portray
Mateo Campos, René, Rubén and Los Muchachos.
My SCR debut.
My other credits include In the Heights, Man of La Mancha, Little Shop of Horrors, Romeo and Juliet, Red and Native Gardens.
So much in this play speaks to and resonates with me. My grandmother's steady decline into dementia over the last handful of years is reflected accurately, beautifully and heartbreakingly in the character of Amalia. I also love the women's resilience in the face of derision to create their all-women mariachi group; it’s a wonderful proxy for so many moments in my life when the people around me looked me in my ​eyes and told me that something I was about to do was impossible. It’s a treat for me to work on a piece that, while being a uniquely Mexican-American story in many regards, is a much more universal story about family to which anyone from anywhere in the world can relate. To get to be a part of that is incredible.
There’s familiar parts of this play and then there​ are ​challenges for me. Character tracks, like the one I play in this piece, are some of my favorites. But ​to change not only my costume, but my entire character, multiple times, back-to-back-to-back, is a fantastic challenge and one I get great joy from tackling.
My favorite songs are by Ingrid Michaelson, in particular Maybe and Afterlife. After college, while I was living and working in Sacramento, a group of friends asked me to be their guitarist so they could sing at open mic nights​—Michaleson’s music—along with a bunch of other material. Her stuff was so much fun to play and hit me right in the heart every time. Because of my history with her music—oh, and my crippling phobia of needles—I got to be in her music video for “Afterlife” and facing my fear on camera. It was only after that experience that I finally had the courage to donate blood, which I've now done several times, and I've only passed out once!

The Mariachis in American Mariachi.
Esteban Montoya Dagnino
, trumpet
Sayra Michelle Haro, violin (She also portrays Tia Camen, see above)
Antonio A. Pró, guitarrón
Ali Pizarro, violin
Adam Ramirez, violin