Theater lovers are very familiar with the beautiful and dazzling Mandy Gonzalez, who has graced the Broadway stage as Nina Rosario in “In The Heights,” Elphaba in “Wicked” and most recently spending two-and-a-half years as Angelica Schuyler in “Hamilton.”
This week, Gonzalez will take a break from the Broadway phenomenon and lend her powerful vocal chops for the Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage production of “The Who’s Tommy.” She will star as Mrs. Walker alongside “Riverdale” star Casey Cott as Tommy and Tony winner Christian Borle playing Captain Walker.
“When my agents called, and told me that they were doing this show at the Kennedy Center and they would love me to do it, and I found out who was involved, I was so excited,” Gonzalez says.
Based on the 1969 concept album by The Who, which went on to become both a movie and Tony Award-winning musical in 1992, “Tommy” boasts music and lyrics by Pete Townshend, a book by Des McAnuff and Townshend, and additional music and lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon.
It’s a score Gonzalez knows well. In fact, when she first headed to New York with dreams of making it big, she often sang “Acid Queen” at auditions, and it’s long been a favorite of hers. Although she won’t be getting to sing that as Mrs. Walker, she says she’s “psyched to finally get the chance to dig into this score.”
The show is part of the Kennedy Center’s week-long Broadway Center Stage productions, and will run April 24-29.
This is the first semi-staged concert production Gonzalez has ever done, and while she admits the short time to get ready is a little daunting, she is calling on her experience from performing in the 24 Hour Musicals.
“The great thing about having such little time is that everyone is rushing to put this thing together the best way possible and do the best work, so a combination of camaraderie and fear will lead us in the right direction,” she says. “I think the love of the musical already will help. I’m really looking forward to throwing myself into this role. I’m a mother now, so I know where Mrs. Walker is coming from and my interpretation is going to be mine.”
Borle will play opposite Gonzalez, and although the two theater vets have never graced the same Broadway stage, they do have a history that goes back more than 15 years, when both were just NYC theater pups.
“We both did the first reading for ‘Wicked’ and we were both in the ensemble,” Gonzalez says. “It was about a week of work, and we spent so much time learning the music, so we never got to sit in the same room and work on material together, so I’m really excited to work alongside him this time. I’ve been a huge fan of his stuff.”
She’s also excited to work alongside Cott, and believes that his involvement in the show will help bring new audiences to “Tommy.” One of those from the younger set will be Gonzalez’ niece, who currently goes to American University, who would have seen her aunt “anyway,” but became more excited when she learned the “Riverdale” star was involved.
“Tommy is a show that doesn’t come around too often and this is a way to get a younger and new audience to fall in love with it the same way I did,” Gonzalez says.
In addition to her Broadway career, Gonzalez began an online movement for girls called the Fearless Squad, which has an active following on both Twitter and Instagram, and she invited all young women to be a part of.
“It’s a movement about inclusion and belonging,” she says. “There were so many people writing me, telling me they felt alone, and this is a place where if you don’t have a squad, you can be part of mine. We are helping one another and accepting one another for who we are.”
There are four simple rules one needs to embrace to be a part of the Fearless Squad:
1) Help each other when we fall
2) Embrace differences
3) Look for the good
4) Dream Big
“When a young person is going through difficult challenges, we offer a place they can go and feel safe,” Gonzalez says. “We heal through community. We can’t forget people who are struggling because those people make our community strong.”
For more information about “The Who’s Tommy,” visit www.kennedy-center.org