BWW Interview: Tony Winner and Grammy Nominee Lindsay Mendez on Her Return to 54 Below and WICKED Past
A Broadway show, Tony Award, Grammy nomination and now a return visit to Feinstein's/54 Below, Lindsay Mendez has had a whirlwind of a year.
Mendez returned to Broadway in Spring of 2018 in the revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel which led to her winning the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for portraying the lovable Carrie Pipperidge.
She has also garnered a Grammy nomination for the cast recording of Carousel, along with her fellow cast members. She finished her run in late September when the show closed.
Mendez then went on to bring a new concert to Feinsteins/54 Below in October of 2018, the concert she is bringing back this January. She sat down with BroadwayWorld to discuss her eventful 2018, her past projects and what she has learned in her time in New York City.
You're returning to the renown Feinstein's/54 Below for another solo show, what can fans expect to hear?
This concert I started building about a year ago and it's a collection of my favorite old-time Broadway songs. I think that this year Carousel has exposed me as a real fan of classic musical theatre. I always have been but now that I've done Carousel I feel like I've really been given permission to do that kind of material in a solo show because before that I was used to doing mostly contemporary musical theatre. This is kind of my chance to expose my audience, which is a wide range of ages but I definitely have younger audience and I want to use this concert to expose them to more classic material that maybe they haven't heard before. I also have a couple new musical theatre songs to appease that side of myself too, but I'd definitely say it's a throwback to wanting to create that old-time supper club environment.
As you said, a focus of your upcoming 54 Below show is golden age musicals, what is your favorite golden age musical, or a top 3 if you can't choose just one?
The King and I definitely. I'm also a big Flora the Red Menace fan, by Kander and Ebb. I also have to say Carousel, hello! (laughter)
Since you've performed many times at Feinstein's/54 Below, what is it you like about the venue that keeps you coming back?
54 Below has such a great audience, it's so nice to have a club that really dedicates itself to presenting artists of such high caliber and also a wide variety of material they present. I think the audiences always come very excited to sit and really listen. I think it's hard to get people to pay money to just go hear live music anymore so the fact that the club really dedicates itself to making an amazing evening for someone and having people feel comfortable and well served, really treated to a pristine, amazing evening of entertainment.
I just find it so warm and inviting and so does anyone who goes there. Not to mention the food is fantastic, the drinks are also really good. They really put together a great show. Every time I go there I'm seeing a show that was just designed for that space. They have great sound people, great lighting people, they take great pride in each show they present.
You're fresh off a Tony Award win! What was that night like for you? Do you remember accepting the award or is it a blur?
I remember it! It was a crazy season, the whole ride between opening the show, all the nominations coming out and all of the stuff that goes with, it got a little dizzying for a while. When it actually came down to that day, I woke up and thought I'm just going to enjoy every second of the fact that I'm part of this community and I have dreamt about going to Radio City and sitting in one of those chairs since I was a little girl and I get to do that today. I really just had the best time the whole day.
Winning was crazy and unexpected and wonderful and when I went up there to accept it I just really felt the love of the whole building. I felt like I knew so many people in that building that I've worked with over the years that I've been in New York and it really felt like the community was excited for me to win and it felt so warm. It felt like I was winning with thousands of my family and friends alongside me. The only way I have to describe it is super warm.
Just have to ask, where do you keep your Tony?
Well I live in New York City in a tiny one bedroom apartment, so I keep it on the one bookshelf I have in my house. I've been holding a spot for it. (laughter) It's right up there with pictures of family and friends and a couple other trinkets I won along the way, which is amazing.
Since a bulk of your career has being playing more contemporary characters, did you ever envision yourself starring in such a classic musical and then even winning a Tony for that?
Definitely not to either. My entire career has been a surprise. When I came out here, I knew I loved to perform and I knew I could act, sing and dance, but I never really saw anyone that looked like me in theatre so I didn't know what to expect, I just knew I had no other choices, this was the only thing I knew how to do. Every role along the way that someone has said 'Hey, have you thought about this?' I always said 'Oh no.'
With Carrie, I read the script and I looked at this young woman and had an idea of what I could do with this. Once I got it under me, I absolutely fell in love with it. The singing was very new to me, I've never sung in that style before, definitely never sung soprano onstage in front of anyone before so that it was it's own surprise. The whole thing was a really big risk because it's such a classic, beloved show.
I actually didn't really know what other people had done with it and I know better than to look at anyone else's performance before I go into something like that. Definitely wasn't going to listen to Audra McDonald do it because I would just turn around and say forget it. Instead I had my way with what I thought it could be and it felt like a big risk because I had no idea what people would say, what people would think. I'm reminded that the biggest risks pay off the most and this is a great example of that.
Carousel closed in September. What was it like having to leave the role of Carrie and your cast?
I loved that cast, we were a major family. I loved being with them everyday so I definitely was sad to say goodbye to them. But at the same time, we did the show almost 250 times so I definitely feel like I got a good run at it. We were all sad about leaving it, but we're so used to these things. They come and go, that's the nature of this business and I think we're all just grateful we got the chance to work together and we were all excited about what each other was going off to do. I felt at peace about it. We got to give that performance to a lot of people and we were really proud of every performance.
Not only are you a Tony Award winner, you are now a Grammy nominee! What was it like finding out you were nominated along your fellow cast members for this award?
Unexpected! I forgot about that completely and then someone called, I got an email from the Grammy people being like 'we need to know where to send the stuff if you win' and I was like 'Oh my god!' It's icing on an amazing cake.
You played Rose in Dogfight, which helped launch the career of Derek Klena and was one of Pasek and Paul's earlier works. What's it like having been part of this Off-Broadway show that still has such a following?
It's crazy. I don't think we all knew it'd be the kind of cult hit it is. It was a really remarkable, hard, painful, beautiful process making that show just because of the content. I found it to be the biggest challenge of my acting life to that point for sure. I also made lifelong friendships with so many of the people I worked on that show with.
I really feel my director, Joe Mantello, pushed me to places I didn't know I could go, he also guided me there. I feel like I learned more than in any other part of my life during that time about being an actor, but also how to live a show like that day to day and be ok. It was a life-changing experience for sure.
Speaking of Joe Mantello, he also directed a little show called Wicked. You played Elphaba during the 10th Broadway anniversary. How does it feel now having your name attached with that legacy?
To be part of that show was a huge honor for me, it's not a role I ever thought I'd play. When it came up I wasn't sure if I could do it physically or vocally, but I wanted to ride through the task, be part of it and I'm so grateful they asked me to do that. It was an amazing time in my life but also the most vocally and physically challenging show I've ever done. I'm super honored I got to dawn the green for a while. It was a lot of fun.
We've just entered a new year, is there anything from 2018 (besides winning the Tony) that has inspired you going into 2019? What did last year teach you?
The year taught me to continue to take big risks and also to keep enjoying wherever I'm at, not assume I know where I'm supposed to be. I have to keep reminding myself that as artists, we're not able to make a plan and that's ok, to live in the what if space, we get caught up in where we have to go next. Also continuing to ask if something excites me, challenges me, or is something I'll really enjoy. If all those boxes are checked, I do it and if they're not, I don't. That continues to be my challenge, to stay present, keep moving forward and be ok not knowing everything.
Lindsay's concert at Feinstein's/54 Below runs from January 22 - January 26. Tickets can be found at https://54below.com/events/lindsay-mendez-2/.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos