Theater - Interview
Actress Mandy Gonzalez
In the Heights
Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 West 46th Street
Mandy Gonzalez is no stranger to Broadway, having
appeared in Aida, Lennon, and Dance of the Vampires since she moved to New York from California to begin her musical theater career. But the role of Nina in In the Heights has unquestionably raised her profile. With her sweet, sympathetic performance, she makes Nina the emotional focus of the entire show as the character returns home to Washington Heights after leaving Stanford (because low grades have cost her a much-needed scholarship). Nina is well aware that this news will grievously disappoint her family and friends, all of whom are counting on her to succeed where no one else in the neighborhood has. Gonzalez recently spoke about her part in the growing phenomenon that is In the Heights, which has received 13 Tony nominations, the most of any show this season.
KEVIN FILIPSKI: After Lennon and Dance of the Vampires, how does it feel to be in a hit Broadway show?
MANDY GONZALEZ: It’s been a nice, welcome change for me! In the Heights has been fantastic. I started by doing a reading in 2004, and I thought it was something special right from the start. It’s really been an amazing ride for all of us, and it’s great that so many people are loving the show and identifying with the story we tell.
KF: Does the make-up of your audience seem different from the usual Broadway crowd?
MG: We’re definitely getting a wide variety of people, which is very exciting. It’s always great doing live theater, because every performance is different: it’s quiet some nights, then there are other times when it seems like we’re in a movie theater, with people in the audience yelling at us onstage. When I first kiss Benny [Christopher Jackson], there’s always a big response, especially from students who are coming to see a show for the first time in their lives. People who look like them are represented onstage, and they’re very proud of that.
KF: Nina’s father doesn’t want her to date Benny, because he considers him “beneath” her. Nina has trouble handling the pressure of being the first kid on the block to attend college. Has this storyline struck a chord with a new generation of theatergoers?
MG: Well, where it all starts is that sense of community -- even if you don’t live in New York. I’ve had so many people come up to me and talk about how their story is the same as Nina's. Just a couple of days ago, a girl from the Midwest told me how she felt when this was happening to her. It was a big responsibility for me when I first decided to come to New York, because I come from a low-income family in California, and they believed in me all the way. So I definitely relate to that part of Nina’s story, with my family putting their hopes and dreams into my achieving success.
KF: Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music and lyrics for the show, and plays the lead. How have his songs helped you shape your character and how you interact with the others onstage?
MG: His music is fantastic. It’s a dream score for anyone in musical theater. As a character, Nina has grown so much since we were performing In the Heights Off-Broadway; her story has developed and become much deeper. For me, working with Priscilla Lopez, whom I listened to as a kid and now she’s “mom” every night, is pretty awesome. Christopher Jackson is also phenomenal, and there’s a lot of other great talent in the show. The entire cast is so dynamic. They all bring their “A” game, so you want to bring yours as well.
KF: Is it the closeness of your cast that explains why something special happens onstage every night?
MG: Of course. It was our dream to go to Broadway, so we're a very tight-knit community. The love that the audience is getting from us is what we’re giving to each other. At the end of the show, it’s wonderful to see the audience standing and cheering -- and, every day more people are waiting outside afterwards to talk to us. That’s definitely something that I don’t take for granted. As I said before, I’m enjoying the ride.