InDepth InterView: Mandy Gonzalez Talks New Film, ONE NIGHT STAND, Plus WICKED, IN THE HEIGHTS & More
Today we are talking to a phenomenally talented performer who has starred in a string of contemporary musicals, ranging from replacement gigs in the Broadway productions of Elton John & Tim Rice's AIDA and Stephen Schwartz's WICKED to creating lead roles in Jim Steinman's DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES and Lin-Manuel Miranda's IN THE HEIGHTS, in addition to her memorable contributions to the Laura Nyro revue, ELI'S COMIN', Off-Broadway and Broadway's short-lived LENNON - the endearing Mandy Gonzalez. Discussing her time spent in many of the aforementioned shows as well as her experiences inhabiting the wildly different characters within each, Gonzalez shares her infectious enthusiasm for performance and her appreciation for having participated in such landmark shows. Most importantly, Gonzalez shares stories from the heated rehearsal rooms backstage at the 24-Hour Musicals celebration and what it was like participating in the event that would form the basis for ONE NIGHT STAND, a documentary film being released in select cities this Wednesday, January 30 at Fathom-equipped movie theaters nationwide. Additionally, Gonzalez reflects on her new role as a mom, as well as roles she would enjoy pursuing in the future and her own most formative and most favorite shows and scores of all. All of that and much, much more!
ONE NIGHT STAND plays in select cities on Wednesday, January 30, at participating Fathom-equipped movie theater locations nationwide.
More information on ONE NIGHT STAND is available here.
Queen Of The Night
PC: What are your thoughts on the new era of entertainment we are in, where entities like PHANTOM 25 and now ONE NIGHT STAND have the potential to reach a big national audience?
MG: Oh, I think it's so fantastic! I think it's so great that we have musical theatre reaching all sorts of different people now thanks to things like this event on Wednesday.
PC: GLEE and SMASH also have added to the momentum. Would you be open to appearing on either of those shows someday?
MG: Oh, yeah. Totally! I'd love to.
PC: You would be an amazing addition to either, for sure.
MG: Thank you. You know, back in the day, movie musicals were really popular, too, and people from Broadway ended up in movies and that's how some people were discovered. I even remember back when musicals were changing and becoming more modern, too, myself, like ten or twelve years ago or so now and when the sound started to change and stuff. Broadway has to stay contemporary. But, yeah, I think it's great that there's a wide variety of stuff on Broadway now and that audiences are being exposed to more musicals through stuff on TV and in movie theaters, too.
PC: Having appeared on Broadway in so many shows with contemporary scores, what are your thoughts on the place of rock on Broadway? And, hip-hop, for that matter?
MG: Oh, I think it's great when it happens - I think that's what theatre is and what it should be, really. I mean, yeah, theatre can take us back in time and that is good, but I think that theatre is about the present and being in the now - and that's music that is happening now. I think it's so important to have contemporary writers who are writing for this generation and what they want to hear and writing music that is touching them. I mean, my niece watches GLEE and sings this music now; Broadway music - and, of course, I think that is so fantastic!
PC: It's a whole new world. You must have seen some very dedicated fans during your stint in WICKED, yes? Super fans.
MG: Oh, definitely. I remember there being people there who'd have seen the show twenty-five, thirty times.
PC: That's a lot.
MG: It is. But, you know, I think the thing about WICKED is that it is just such an incredible show and it really touches so many people on such a deep level - especially girls, I think, because of these two powerful women in the show.
PC: Galinda and Elphaba.
MG: Yes. And, Elphaba... [Pause. Sighs.] You know, it was just such a great opportunity to play such a rich character like that, who is really kind of an outcast. And, I think that a lot of kids who come to the theater to see the show might feel like that, too, and it's nice sometimes in life to see a character in something like WICKED that you can really relate to, like her.
PC: Thereby, ultimately, creating a sense of shared experience between actor and audience, as well.
MG: Exactly. So, yeah, I felt really honored to be a part of that show and be a part of some kids' lives in that way - you know, kids would sometimes come up to me after the show and say, "Oh, I'm bullied in school like that sometimes and I am so glad I got to see you deal with it like that." They really responded to the character of Elphaba, and, I think that WICKED was really a probably a kind of safe haven for them - you know, they could kind of plug into the world of WICKED and sit in their rooms and escape and be inspired when they wanted to be. I felt really good being a part of all of that.
PC: What a fascinating understanding of the impact of WICKED.
MG: I think that great art always does that - and WICKED does that for a lot of people.
PC: Do you remember seeing a certain show or movie musical growing up that had a similar effect on you? FAME or FOOTLOOSE, maybe?
MG: Oh, yeah - are you kidding me?! [Laughs.] FAME, of course. I grew up in California, so I saw some theatre - some live stuff - but, for me, growing up, it was really all about the movie musicals. That's how it all started for me and how I started to want to do what they were doing - and, you know, gaining a love of something and then getting the soundtrack and sitting at home and singing all the songs and memorizing it all.
PC: What were your favorites, in particular?
MG: Well, ANNIE was definitely a favorite - that was definitely a show that I did all that with. I think there is actually a picture on the web somewhere of a pre-school photo of me at like 4 in an ANNIE sweatshirt. [Laughs.]
PC: You were bitten by the bug at an early age, then!
MG: I was. I definitely was. I never got to play Annie, though, when I was a kid - I was always too tall. [Laughs.] I got over it, though.
PC: What a great memory.
MG: Yeah, that really never quite worked out! But, besides that, my favorites were MY FAIR LADY, GYPSY, WEST SIDE STORY. Those were the big ones for me. Then, there was EASTER PARADE and anything with Judy Garland - I really love her. PRESENTING LILY MARS was one of my favorite movies, too.
PC: What about the more contemporary films of your era?
MG: Yeah, I loved a lot of those ones, too - FLASHDANCE and FAME and FOOTLOOSE. I loved all of it. Those were more about the dancers, though - they weren't singing live and doing it like I wanted to do someday, really. I remember loving the soundtracks, though. FAME was the huge one for me - and they really sang in that!
PC: They certainly did.
MG: [Sings. Full Out.] "Out here on my own!" [Laughs.] Are you kidding me?! Of course.
PC: Did you ever sing "I Sing The Body Electric"? Your voice is particularly well-suited to anthems like that.
MG: Are you kidding me? Of course! I love all those songs. I love it.
PC: Did you ever sing "Holding Out For A Hero" from FOOTLOOSE? That's another epic 80s anthem, though taken from FOOTLOOSE, of course.
MG: Oh, yeah! I definitely sang it, but I don't think I ever did that one in public - I think I just sang it, like, around my house. But, yeah, it's definitely one of those songs that I loved to do.
PC: You starred in DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES by the same songwriter, Jim Steinman. What is your best Steinman story? He's such a cool guy.
MG: Oh, Jim has the best fashion sense - oh, my God! He wore this really cool shiny leather jacket and he wore it like every day - it was such a cool jacket. And, Jim... [Sighs.] He's just such a great guy. And, then, you know, he's right there and he's the Jim Steinman! [Laughs.] He's a big presence and larger than life.
PC: He makes a big impression.
MG: He does. I feel bad that it all didn't work out that well with the show, but he's an amazing, amazing writer and musician and I feel honored to have been able to work with him.
PC: Did you ever get to record anything in the studio with him?
MG: No. I didn't. I think that everything was kind of expected for that kind of thing to eventually happen, but, then, when the show opened and closed so fast, everything just stopped happening with all of that kind of stuff. We just all moved on to the next thing and that was it.
PC: Does "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" hold a special place in your heart? It is one of your most viewed YouTube videos and you sang it so brilliantly in DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES and since then.
MG: Oh, of course. Definitely. I have a lot of great memories associated with that song. It was always one of my favorite songs to sing growing up, so to get to sing it live on a Broadway stage every night was a pretty cool feeling for me. It was pretty incredible.
PC: What was your audition for the show like? Do you remember what you performed?
MG: Well, I auditioned for everybody, so it was about five auditions total. [Pause.] Gosh, I don't remember what I sang initially, but I had to sing "Total Eclipse" and "Braver Than We Are", I remember that - it was a pretty intense process! [Laughs.]
PC: I bet. You were quite new to the scene.
MG: Yeah, I was so young. I was like 22, 23.
PC: There were some truly unforgettable moments in the show - the drawbridge lowering after "Say A Prayer"?! Unreal!
MG: Oh, I know! I am actually so glad we are having this conversation because it has been like ten years now and I am starting to forget all of the great memories of that show. It was pretty awesome.
PC: Did you do all vocals live in the show, including some with those crazy effects?
MG: Yes. [Laughs.] Everything I sang in the show was done live. We all sang from backstage for the choral stuff where we weren't onstage, too.
PC: What are your thoughts on patching in notes, fade-outs and sweetening vocals like is done quite often these days to closer mimic a studio sound?
MG: Well, I think that you gotta do what you gotta do and whatever works best getting through eight shows a week is what has to happen. Every show and every performer is different. Whatever you can handle, you can handle, and, so, you know, I put no judgment on any of that.
PC: You are always in top vocal form. Do you have perfect pitch?
MG: Aww, that's so sweet! I don't really know a lot about all of that stuff, actually! I can tell you that I try to be really disciplined when it comes to performing and I always try to give my best when I go out there and be as prepared as possible at all times, so whatever comes out, comes out! [Laughs.] I always just go out there and hope for the best.
PC: Do you keep up your voice when you are between projects or is your focus basically on being a mom?
MG: Well, I think that, being a working mom, you constantly do the best that you can in any given situation; you have to try to do both, though, I think. For me, I try to keep up as best as I possibly can all the time while being the best mom I can be at the same time.
PC: So, what do you remember doing back when ONE NIGHT STAND was being filmed?
MG: It was a few years ago, actually - during when I was in IN THE HEIGHTS on Broadway, I think. So, it was a little while ago now.
PC: How were you approached to be a part of the project in the first place?
MG: Well, it was just one of those things where they said, "Hey, do you want to be a part of this?" And, I said, "Sure! This sounds great!" And, so, I went and I really didn't have any idea of what I was getting into... [Big Laugh.]
PC: It must have seemed a little daunting, given the premise!
MG: It did! It really kind of did. I had no idea how great it all would turn out to be, though, either! I mean, you know, you are in New York and you are in a show and you don't really get to see a lot of people outside of the show - like, ever; either you are resting or you are doing fittings for the show or you are rehearsing - so, to do something outside of the show - and something so cool and unique like this - was really, really great.
PC: Why, in particular, did you enjoy the process for this?
MG: Oh, well, you get to see all of your friends! You get to work with them, too, in the case of something like this, and create something from scratch. It was such a good time to do this and it was such a real, New York experience for me. I am so happy that I am a part of it.
PC: Have you seen the finished film of ONE NIGHT STAND yet?
MG: Yes, I did. I think I first saw it at a screening about a year ago now and I think it is really just fantastic!
PC: What was your initial reaction? It's an intense viewing experience, no?
MG: Oh, my God! I know! I was like holding my breath the whole time! [Laughs.] I was like, "Is this really going to be OK?!" Even though I obviously knew that it would, I still got so caught up in it! I was very, very into it the whole time I was watching it and I think it turned out really great as something of its own and so the whole experience has been wonderful.
PC: Your "Queen Of The Night" (from THE BODYGUARD) audition may be the vocal highlight - and my personal favorite moment - of the entire film. Just: wow.
MG: Thank you! [Laughs.] Thank you so much. Oh, my gosh. That is so funny.
PC: Was Whitney Houston an influence on you as a vocalist?
MG: Oh, of course. Absolutely. Whitney was a big, big influence on me as a vocalist and she continues to be.
PC: If there is untraditional casting, would you be open to playing the lead in THE BODYGUARD onstage someday?
MG: Oh, wow! Who knows?! Who knows. [Laughs.]
PC: What are your thoughts on the popular trend of screen-to-stage adaptations like that one and so many others of late?
MG: Well, I think that if something is good, it is good. That's all that I think that matters - whether or not something holds up or not. But, yeah, I think it's great that new music is out there, whatever it is being written for - that's what it is all about. It is so important for writers to write more things and get new musicals out there, whatever they are - that's how we all work.
PC: You have now played roles originated by Idina Menzel in two shows - AIDA and WICKED. How was the experience of replacing someone so identifiable like she is for you as a performer?
MG: Oh, it was awesome! I think that AIDA was my first Broadway job. So, I remember when I first met Idina, RENT had been such a huge part of my Broadway life up until then, of course, and I was totally obsessed with it, and she just couldn't have been nicer to me. She was so gracious and so genuine. So, it was really awesome for me, especially on AIDA, which I went into right after her, to step into a role she had just done.
PC: Amneris is another role with some great pop-based showstoppers.
MG: Oh, yeah! Great role. Great songs. Great clothes. I had a great time.
PC: Between then and now, have you participated in any readings for new musicals that you think hold a lot of potential?
MG: Yeah, I have, actually. I just did a workshop for a show last year that was written by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater - a new play with music that they just finished doing recently, I think. It is really fantastic and a really great piece and I am really happy with it, so I hope something happens with it. I can't say any more, though! [Laughs.]
PC: What are your thoughts on Duncan's SPRING AWAKENING?
MG: Oh, I think it's really wonderful. Totally wonderful.
PC: What are your thoughts on edgier musicals like that in general and their place on Broadway today?
MG: Well, I think that that is another one of those things that theatre is all about - it has to be daring. I loved that show, though. I think it's a great show.
PC: Does the content of a piece come into play when you are selecting a role? For instance, your voice is perfectly suited to ROCK OF AGES, but is it your kind of show?
MG: No. I only try to do things that really speak to me. I mean, I never have turned down anything because it was too edgy or anything like that. I think that the work just has to speak to me in some way and if it does then I am totally game.
PC: Do you think there is a future for your mini-musical featured in ONE NIGHT STAND?
MG: [Laughs.] Oh, I don't know about that! I think we took that concept about as far as it could go, really. I do think that there is a future for Lance Horne, though - I think he is a really talented guy and he has a bright future ahead of him.
PC: He's one of the most talented New York composers, I think.
MG: I think so, too. I think Lance is really great and we have worked together for a long time, so I am glad we got to do the musical in this movie together. I love Lance.
PC: Besides Lance, another composing collaborator of yours on an original musical has done this column and spoke so favorably of you when he did so - Lin-Manuel Miranda of IN THE HEIGHTS.
MG: [Pause. Sighs.] Oh, I love Lin. I just totally love him and that whole experience was something I will never forget. It was a really, really special show for me - for all of us.
PC: What was the transition from Off-Broadway to Broadway like for you with IN THE HEIGHTS?
MG: Oh, the whole thing was so, so special. You know, I started with IN THE HEIGHTS back when it was still just in a reading format. I remember when I first heard Lin singing the opening number and thinking to myself, "Oh, my God! This song is incredible! Oh, my God - this guy is incredible!" So, it was basically a feeling of, like, "Let's see where this show goes." And, so, we had a workshop and it went to Off-Broadway after that and then to Broadway - and it just ended up being one of those experiences that you can only have in the theatre.
PC: You look back on it with great affection, then?
MG: Oh, yeah. I mean, the show won the Tony Award and it's an incredible, incredible show - it was an incredible experience.
PC: Would you be open to being a part of the movie if it happens?
MG: Oh, I don't know about any of that! We'll have to see! [Laughs.]
PC: Would you be interested in a solo show in the future? You could handle it vocally. Maybe a new TELL ME ON A SUNDAY?
MG: Oh, I would love that! I love singing Andrew Lloyd Webber music, actually. That would be so much fun to do.
PC: Lastly, you have been a big proponent of BroadwayWorld from the very beginning and saw it from its birth more or less, isn't that true?
MG: Yes, I did! I did. Oh, gosh, I remember back then, like ten years ago now, just talking to Rob [Diamond] one day and him being like, "Yeah, I am working on developing this website. You should check it out sometime - it's called BroadwayWorld.com." And, so, I remember after that I went on there and it just totally blew my mind - it was so, so fantastic! And, it still is. It's so great. I think it all is such a huge, huge accomplishment.
PC: I really appreciate this today, Mandy. We all can't wait for what you do next!
MG: Thank you so much, Pat. This was a lot of fun to do. Bye.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride, etc.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro