Best known for her roles in In the Heights and Wicked, Mandy Gonzalez is a Broadway singer/actress with a considerable vocal range who recently made her cabaret debut at 54 Below singing an eclectic mix of songs from her various stage roles and pop/rock songs. She is also a quasi-acquaintance of mine (somewhere between being a fan and a friend), as I had first met her when she was in the short-lived Dance of the Vampires and was blown away by her impressive vocals (and probably one of the few actors that I have seen on stage who could match the vocal intensity to share the stage with Michael Crawford as they had when they sung “Total Eclipse of the Heart”). When I had first met her at the stage door all those years ago, I recall telling her that she’d be a Broadway star, and sure enough, she has fulfilled that prophesy.
54 Below is a perfect venue for her to make her cabaret debut, as that space is intimate as well as infamous – its location (as the venue name suggests) was where the famed Studio 54 was located, not too far from the Times Square area. The venue itself is relatively new, having opened in June 2012, and has quickly become a hub for theatre cabaret shows, with the likes of Patti LuPone, Norbert Leo Butz, Aaron Tveit, Sherie Rene Scott (to name but a few) taking to the stage to perform to an audience that are at arm’s length from the stage.
Dressed in a black sequin top and black leather pants, Mandy started the show with a bit of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, exuding lots of spunk and sass before segueing into a brief fit of nerves from doing her first solo show, to which the musical director advised her to just “Breathe” (a reference to one of her songs from In the Heights). She didn’t sing all of “Defying Gravity”, as she wanted us to “get to know her better” before she went on to belt that song out (which garnered some laughs).Among the non-theatrical songs she proceeded to sing (and belt) were “A Little Less Conversation”, originally sung by Elvis Presley, Prince’s “Kiss”, and the Queen song “Crazy Thing Called Love”; she also sang The Temptations’ song “Get Ready” both with an upbeat tempo and also as a haunting torch song – in between these two renditions she spoke of her family and their influence on her life and career. She then spoke of her parents and the love letters they had written to one another early in their courtship and remarked how her father would sign his letters “Love always” but spelling it “wrong” so that it read “love all ways”, which no doubt was the inspiration behind her naming her first cabaret show “Love, All Ways”. She then sang “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (the longer version of the song with its original lyrics), which was greeted with much applause and cheering, especially as she belted out and riffed the final notes as she had done at the final performance of Dance of the Vampires. There was also a portion of the show dedicated to her experiences in In the Heights, including a confession that she never really learned how to speak Spanish growing up, and how there had been several different songs for her character Nina’s first song in the show – she sang one of those songs (I can’t remember the exact title) then sang “Breathe”, the song that ended up in the show. At the end, she finally sang the entirety of “Defying Gravity” which earned her a standing ovation from the audience. For an encore, she sang “The Best in the World” from A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine as a tribute to Priscilla Lopez, her co-star in In the Heights, who had originally sung; Ms. Lopez was in the audience, and Mandy had acknowledged her as being a valued friend and inspiration.
She lingered about after the show, greeting friends and fans alike, posing for photos and such, conversant and personable as she always is. Though she only performed for one night, there has been talk of future shows (including a return engagement at 54 Below some time in 2014!) and I sincerely hope there will be more opportunities for those in New York City (and perhaps elsewhere) to hear her amazing voice and experience her vivacious personality.