Doreen Montalvo


John Moore's 2018 interview after the Denver Center's world-premiere co-production of 'American Mariachi’ at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. With actors Amanda Robles, Doreen Montalvo, Crissy Guerrero, Jennifer Paredes, Natalie Camunas and Heather Velazquez.

By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist

The first time I saw Doreen Montalvo was in the original Broadway production of “In the Heights.” Ten years later, when she entered the room for the DCPA Theatre Company’s meet-and-greet for the world-premiere play “American Mariachi" in 2018, she lit up the room like a human generator. Thus began four months of uninterrupted kindness and daily decency as the play’s journey eventually moved from Denver to San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre.

She returned to Denver later that year playing Gloria Estefan's mother, Gloria Fajardo, in the 2018 national touring production of the Broadway musical "On Your Feet." 

Montalvo, who died Saturday after a sudden illness, will appear in the upcoming film adaptations of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s "In the Heights" and Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story." At the time of the COVID shutdown, Montalvo was playing network executive Janet Lundy in the new Broadway musical "Mrs. Doubtfire."  She was 56.

You didn’t have to know Montalvo for long to feel the loss. Take it from Lin-Manuel Miranda: Everyone who met her became her new friend.

"Doreen Montalvo was the first actress to audition for 'In The Heights' in the basement of the Drama Book Shop in 2002, and she embedded herself in my heart in an instant," Miranda wrote on Twitter.

"It is monstrously unfair that we did not get more time with her. More shows with her. More music with her. More life with her. When someone brings that much joy and love to everyone they meet, that much commitment to the craft they love ... it's unfair. And heartbreaking."

'It is monstrously unfair that we did not get more time with her. More shows with her. More music with her. More life with her.' – Lin-Manuel Miranda

Montalvo played Amalia and Doña Lola in José Cruz González’s “American Mariachi” world-premiere staging in Denver. Set in the 1970s American southwest, the “play with music” follows the journey of a young woman named Lucha who has become the caretaker for a mother with dementia (played by Montalvo). Yet she endeavors to become one of the first female mariachi players in the United States. Amalia is stirred by a certain ballad that momentarily brings her back to reality.

"The core of 'American Mariachi' is the heart," Su Teatro Artistc Director Tony Garcia wrote for Latin Life Denver. "It is about family, and intense love, and like any good bolero it carries with it that aching moment of hubris that will not only harm, but scar for years into the future."

Montalvo plays the Neighbor Lady as well as the voice of the bolero singer "Siempre" in the upcoming film version of "In The Heights." She will be seen as a political activist during the song "America" in Spielberg's upcoming "West Side Story" film.

Montalvo recently released her solo album "American Soul/Latin Heart" distributed by Broadway Records. 

Television and film credits include: 'Alternatino," "Madame Secretary," "The Tale of Timmy Two Chins," "Elementary," "Smash," "The Good Wife," "Law and Order," "One Life to Live," "All My Children," "Tracked," "Jack, Jules, Esther and Me," and "Hooray for Love."

Montalvo, wife of film director Michael Mann ("Manhunter"), was born November 15, 1963, in the Bronx. Their home outside of New York was in the Poconos Mountains, where she was an avid kayaker. 

Additional reaction:

  • Crissy Guerrero, "American Mariachi” castmate: “Absolutely gutted by the loss of my wonderful friend. Doreen was a gorgeous soul full of compassion, grit and talent. With Doreen at the helm, my wonderful cast became family during ‘American Mariachi,’ and have continued our love affair with one another, even now. I was awestruck upon first meeting her, marveling at her gorgeous voice and the depth of her acting. But it was as my friend I became truly grateful for Doreen. Generous, kind and funny, Doreen always had time to talk about life and offer sage advice. Despite being the awesome Broadway presence she was, she knew there was room for everybody at the table and encouraged us each to be our best selves onstage and off. As bright as her light shone on Broadway, she was also a beacon in my life of love and friendship. Doreen, you leave a massive hole in theater and in my life. I love you, my sweet friend.”
  • Jon M. Chu, "In the Heights" film director: “Doreen was a force of love that seeped into every inch of ‘In the Heights.’ ”
  • Heather Velazquez, “American Mariachi” castmate: “Amiga mía, ya te extraño. Que descanses en el cielito lindo. You are one of the greats! Your spirit will live on forever my dearest Doreen. I will always love you.”
  • Jennifer Paredes, “American Mariachi” castmate: “My words fail me — miss you so hard, love you forever queen. Thank you for your LIGHT for your LOVE for your STRENGTH. Your life profoundly touched so many of us. Rest in brilliant song and peace.”
  • Regina Garcia, “American Mariachi” Scenic Designer: "The better humans are meant to be our angels, or so it seems. My broken heart and deep admiration always with our DCPA and Old Globe "American Mariachi familia."

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine during his time at The Denver Post. He also is the founder of The Denver Actors Fund, and is now contributing reports on the arts community for ArvadaCenter.Org. Reach him at

Doreen Montalvo'American Miariachi.' Photo by Adams VisCom.

Doreen Montalvo and Rodney Lizcano. Photo by Adams VisCom. 'This moment in our play was magical every night because of you,' wrote 'American Mariachi' castmate Rodney Lizcano. Photo by Adams VisCom.

Doreen Montalvo. Photo by John MooreRehearsal for 'American Mariachi.' Photo by John Moore.

Doreen Montalvo. Photo by John MooreWith American Mariachi' castmate Bobby Plasencia. Photo by John Moore.

Doreen Montalvo. Photo by John MooreWith American Mariachi' castmate Bobby Plasencia and Director James Vásquez. Photo by John Moore.

Doreen Montalvo. Photo by John MooreOpening Night of 'American Mariachi' in Denver. Photo by John Moore.

Doreen Montalvo. Photo by John Moore

Opening Night of 'American Mariachi' in San Diego: Doreen Montalvo, Heather Velazquez, Jennifer Paredes, Crissy Guerrero,  Natalie Camunas and Amanda Robles. Photo by John Moore.

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