Diva TalkFrom Oprah to In the Heights and Hamilton, Mandy Gonzalez’s 9 Most Memorable Nights OnstageThe Fearless Gonzalez, who currently plays Angelica Schuyler in Broadway’s Hamilton, looks back on her career thus far.
It's been an especially busy time for Obie winner Mandy Gonzalez, who premiered “Fearless,” a single penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda at the September Viva Broadway event in Times Square, released her debut solo recording (also titled Fearless) in October, wowed audiences in her first limited engagement at the Café Carlyle that same month, and continues to dazzle in the role of Angelica Schuyler in the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Gonzalez is in thrilling voice on her aforementioned seven-track recording, which bridges pop and R&B. Not only does Fearless feature a new song by Miranda, there are also original works by Jennifer Nettles, Bill Sherman, and Tom Kitt as well as a duet with Christopher Jackson, the Hamilton star who was featured opposite Gonzalez in In the Heights. The recording also includes an intimate version of her signature song, In the Heights’ “Breathe,” and a rocked-out take on the classic “Que Será, Será.” The recording is available at Fearless.us.
We recently asked the Broadway favorite to pen a list of her most memorable moments in her career:
Performing on The Oprah Winfrey Show
At 19 years old, I booked my first professional job and left home for the first time to sing back-up with one of my heroes, Bette Midler. The week before we left on tour, we made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. We were preparing for the performance, and I caught a glimpse of Oprah as she passed by the green room—it was a surreal moment. The biggest goal I had for that performance was not to pass out, but the moment Bette started to sing “Wind Beneath My Wings,” all of my fears were gone—in that moment it was all about Bette. Once I took my focus off of me, the performance became so much easier!
Winning the Obie Award After working two odd jobs in order to leave my days free to audition in New York, I didn't have representation, so I attended every open call listed in the trade papers. Six months of attending these calls, I waited in line three hours to be seen for the show Eli’s Coming, and I booked it! That show introduced me to some incredible women, Diane Paulus, our director, Diedre Murray, composer and musical director, my co-stars Judy Kuhn, Anika Noni Rose, and Ronnell Bey. It was also my introduction to the music of Laura Nyro, who was an amazing singer-songwriter. I felt so incredibly proud to be part of that show and belt out those songs, but it came as a surprise when we were invited to the Obie Awards. Without really knowing why we had been invited, we were floored when we were awarded the Obie for Best Performance—it’s the show that launched my New York career!
Performing “Breathe” on Broadway in In the Heights
In the opening number of In the Heights, every cast member was onstage, except for me. While we were Off-Broadway, some of the cast and myself were in the elevator with one of our producers, Jeffrey Seller, and they were asking me if I was disappointed that I wasn’t in the number, and, of course, I was, but Jeffrey responded, “No, because she gets the second song. And that’s her song.” I was taken aback, but so proud in that moment, and I think of that every time I sing “Breathe,” even now, because sometimes it’s OK to be second.
Storming the stage after winning Best Musical for In the Heights
When Heights began at 37 Arts, all 11 women shared a single dressing room, and the men shared a second room, but on the women’s door we hung a sign that read, “We’re Going to Broadway!,” which we all signed and touched before each performance. Imagine the joy, then, when the move to Broadway was announced! Then on to the Tonys and running down the aisles of Radio City Music Hall when In the Heights won the Tony for Best Musical. This family, who had dreamed big things for this little show, were finally seeing those dreams actualized, and I knew I’d remember that moment for the rest of my life, celebrating with mi gente.
First Performance in Wicked
In 2010 I stepped out of In the Heights, and the announcement was made via Lin [-Manuel Miranda] in a green shirt and Alex Lacamoire playing bars from “Defying Gravity” during my final curtain call that I was joining the cast of Wicked. Excitement and terror mixed into a crazy amount of anticipation for my first time onstage as Elphaba. When the clock doors opened and I ran out onstage, I immediately felt a sense of belonging, and a feeling that I was right where I was meant to be. Of course, my Heights family was also there, and hearing them cheer for me was a feeling unlike any other.
Performing “Say No to This” for The Hamilton Mixtape at Lincoln Center My daughter was two months old when I got the call from Tommy Kail asking if I was willing to come and sing with Lin for his songbook series at Lincoln Center. My first thought was, “What am I going to wear?!” So after a panicked trip to Bloomingdale’s, and with encouragement from the sales clerks there, I bought a dress for the first time since becoming a mom, and showed up to perform with some of the most incredible musicians that I knew. I was absolutely blown away, and I knew that Lin had done it once again.
Tommy Kail called again in 2016, and again I said, “Yes, of course!” to becoming part of the cast of Hamilton. I had watched the show while it was still at The Public Theater, and was a huge fan, like most of the rest of the world. So when the opportunity came to join the cast, I didn’t hesitate; after having my daughter, I knew there was still more I wanted creatively. Stepping through the stage door, seeing Jimmy the Doorman, coming back into the same dressing room I was in during Heights, the stage crew, all of it was just like coming back home, and I feel so fortunate to be where I am.
My next big goal, after having my daughter, and returning to Broadway, was to put together a solo album. I’m very fortunate that Lin agreed to write my title track to my debut album, Fearless. The whole process was a whirlwind, and it culminated in debuting the first single, “Fearless,” at Viva Broadway, where Lin was on hand to introduce the song, and I sang it live in the middle of Times Square. What else could compare to that?!
Next on my dream to-do list was a residency at the legendary Café Carlyle. My dream came true this past October where I spent two weeks preparing every night in my suite in the hotel, and performing in the Café. So much of mi gente came through, Priscilla Lopez, Karen Olivo, Janet Dacal, Eliseo Roman, Carlos Gomez, Lin and his wife Vanessa, and Chris Jackson, who graciously performed our duet from my album at both the first and final shows. A theme of my career has been that I have been so lucky to both have so many of my dreams come true, but I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have my family, my husband and daughter, my parents, and my theatre family there for me—they've made it truly memorable!