BWW Review: Mandy Gonzalez Is Phenomenal and FEARLESS in Her Cafe Carlyle Debut
Early on in her Café Carlyle debut this past month, Mandy Gonzalez remarked on how excited she was to be uptown, though, while the HAMILTON star was at the mic, it was anything but quiet.
Making her way onstage for the October 24 performance, she dove right in, urging the crowd to gather 'round and listen well for a spirited rendition of "Raise the Roof" from Andrew Lippa's THE WILD PARTY, tangoing in place and skipping any unnecessary warmup.
Taking a two-week hiatus from the Broadway juggernaut, Gonzalez soon revealed she was filming a role on a TV show, promoting her new EP, FEARLESS, and, yes, performing for this crowd in a new show, also fittingly named FEARLESS! Asking herself aloud why she would do that, she shrugged, "Because I can."
During a wildly exuberant rendition of "Vivir Mi Vida," Marc Anthony's Spanish-language cover of the Khaled hit "C'est la Vie," it became clear there was an acute intentionality to everything she was doing on that stage.
With the theatrical "Everyday" (Tom Kitt), her performance was, again, intensely concentrated, as if she were doing everything she could not to demolish the place with her voice, until the already treacherously-high number led into a climactic key change, and, for a moment, it seemed like she just might.
Striking a nice balance between songs from past and present projects and other numbers that mean something to her, she revived "Breathe" (Lin-Manuel Miranda) from INTO THE HEIGHTS and brought out HAMILTON alum Christopher Jackson for a duet of "Life Is Sweet" (Jennifer Nettles/Bill Sherman).
Gonzalez's pride in her skill for curation didn't go unstated, either. Explaining that putting her album together was similar to a mixtape or a puzzle, she noted, "Songs that don't fit make room for those that do." Her intentionality held true as she spoke between songs, as well. She often said little, but by imbuing them with so much meaning, it often felt difficult to separate the songs from her emotions surrounding them.
That was particularly true in the lead-up to "Get Ready" (Smokey Robinson), when she opened up about her parents becoming pen pals while her father was a soldier during the Vietnam War. He'd been a performer before his service, but Gonzalez wouldn't hear him until years later, singing that very song. Gonzalez didn't aim to reinvent the number, but by slowing it down and bringing an urgency to each line, it felt like less of a performance and more like a love letter she was writing to them in that moment.
Gonzalez was no less open when discussing the oft-asked question, "When are you gonna do WICKED again?" Recalling the green paint, 15-pound dress, the 10-pound broom, and all other challenges that come with playing Elphaba, she retorted, "Never." But her explanation of the reasons behind that decision was presented so genuinely---with Gonzalez gesturing emphatically with her hands---once again, if it hadn't been clearly prepared as a lead-in to the next song, it would have nearly seemed improvised.
That next number, a cover of "Bein' Green" (Joe Raposo), was certainly a wink to the audience, but she sang it with utter sincerity, with the laughs falling away after the opening bars. As definitive of her declaration about closing that chapter, it was obvious that she has respect for that role and her fans, paying homage to that time in her life by jumping directly into "Defying Gravity" (Stephen Schwartz).
Near the end of the show, Gonzalez opened up about, as she described it, stepping off the hamster wheel that is the industry because she wanted to be a mother. A few years later, she says she surprised herself by looking inside again and realizing she still had a yearning to "create and paint on a bigger canvas."
Well, it's hard to think of a bigger canvas than HAMILTON. And, in no small way, that led to "Fearless"---the final song before the encore---written by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself. She admitted that the busy star first gave her the name of another songwriter, but Gonzalez decided to wait him out. It's a song that would've been worth waiting years for, blending her family's rich history with Gonzalez's own journey of going after those things she still wants.
The soaring, affecting piece is an exceptional showcase for her vocals, garnering applause while anguishing over her mother's decision to stay or go with Gonzalez's father, amid her parents' disapproval. The number effectively put that exclamation point on the end of FEARLESS!, bringing the show full-circle while also, with all of its talk of beginning again, signaling great things ahead.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.