In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, a Southern California theater company will take the stage at CSUB’s Dore Theatre to perform “Mariachi Girl,” the coming-of-age story of a teen who dreams of performing the joyous music of her heritage over the objections of her father.
And while the underlying themes of tradition, biculturalism and generational conflict are serious, the production is vibrant and triumphant, thanks to the “mini-mariachi concert” performed by a troupe of 20 professional musicians, dancers and actors, including 16-year-old star Estefani Lopez, who gives a luminous performance as a dutiful daughter who must defy the traditions of her family in order to celebrate the traditions of her culture.
“I hope to share with Bakersfield audiences what Mexican culture is all about,” Lopez said in a recent interview. “I want them to hear more about mariachi music and get the message that it’s good to keep moving forward, not be so traditional and let kids be what they want to be.”
The bilingual musical is written by Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, with lyrics and music by Héctor Martinez Morales and produced by ÁNIMO, a nonprofit Ventura County theater and film company that has taken “Mariachi Girl” to several cities throughout California. Miguel Orozco, artistic director and founder of ÁNIMO, said the audience response has been overwhelming.
“When you have a professional mariachi group, you have all the pageantry that comes with mariachi music,” Orozco said. “You think about the traditional mariachi suits, costumes; it’s very regal, very colorful, and it definitely has high production values. The music is so good.”
“Mariachi Girl” marks the third collaboration between ÁNIMO and Cal State Bakersfield. Orozco worked with Mark Martinez, chairman of the Political Sciences Department and CSUB Center for Social Justice, to produce the award-winning documentary “American Migrant Stories,” and the theater group performed the mariachi opera “El Bracero” to capacity crowds at the Dore last year, also in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
“As a university that emphasizes the power of diversity and inclusion, we embrace any opportunity to celebrate the rich cultures and traditions of our students,” said CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny. “The ‘El Bracero’ opera received a seven-minute standing ovation at the Dore Theatre, so there is a lot of anticipation building for ‘Mariachi Girl.’ I can’t wait!”
Bakersfield attorney and CSUB Foundation board member H.A. Sala is a co-sponsor of the Dore Theatre production. He saw a performance of “Mariachi Girl” in Los Angeles and knew immediately that Bakersfield audiences would respond to the music and themes.
“It’s a story that transcends all cultures and applies to all young women who want to break through certain barriers that are put in front of them to achieve their dreams,” Sala said. “I think this is a great play for families of all cultures, a great play for young women and a great play for men to show them that some of the biases they have are really irrational.
“I have two daughters and took them both to see it. When they came out of the play, they felt empowered to do whatever they set their minds to do.”
The young star of “Mariachi Girl,” who has been singing since the age of 3, can relate to the struggle of overcoming obstacles to pursue her art. Every day, Estefani Lopez spends four hours on the Metrolink train traveling to and from her Riverside County home and Cal State Los Angeles, where she attends an elite high school for the performing arts. A similarly grueling commute, to Ventura County, is required every Saturday for “Mariachi Girl” rehearsals, and then it’s off to perform at weddings and parties with her own mariachi band.
Though a seasoned performer, having competed on Mexico’s version of “The Voice” and singing and playing the violin for audiences from the age of 7, “Mariachi Girl” represents a new opportunity for Lopez, who until now had no experience with the unique demands of musical theater.
“This is a whole different thing, in a theater performing for a bunch of people. When I sing alone, it’s just a set of songs. But with a musical, there is more interaction between performers. But I love this mariachi group in the play. They’re all so talented, so supportive. I’ve learned so much from them.”
“Mariachi Girl” runs about an hour and 20 minutes and though it is described as a bilingual musical, about 80 percent of the dialogue is in English, Orozco said. The music is in Spanish and features a mix of original and classic mariachi compositions, though Sala said there is no language barrier when it comes to music.
“Even if you don’t understand Spanish, the lyrical value, the music, it’s so melodic, it’s just very pleasing to hear,” Sala said. “The singers blend so well with the instruments. If you’ve never heard mariachi or just some of it, this is an opportunity to experience this genre of music from a world-class mariachi group.”
Jennifer Self is director of communications and public affairs at CSUB.