Mandy Gonzalez is known for major Broadway roles, TV and movie appearances, authoring young-adult books and being a breast cancer research advocate. Tens of thousands follow her on her social media pages, and she has an acclaimed LP, “Fearless,” that features her colossal voice.
“My biggest thrill is live performance,” Gonzalez said from her home outside New York City. “I love connecting with an audience.”
Touring smaller venues and cities delights Gonzalez. She’s excited to appear at the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre Sept. 20 to sing, “A little bit of Broadway, a little bit from my album and a little bit of some other pop stuff,” she said.
“And a little bit of Bruce (Springsteen). I live in New Jersey, so you must pay homage to him,” she added. “I love to be able to take these songs I’ve done on the stage and bring them into different communities. It’s a little bit of Broadway for whatever community I get to go to.”
Her professional singing career began with a garage band that played Hollywood dive bars.
“I’m glad I did that to see if that was the kind of life I wanted to live,” she said.
That band taught her multi-ranges of harmonies, which led her to be a backup singer for Bette Midler’s “Divine Miss Millennium” tour.
Gonzalez later moved to New York City and worked as a coat checker, a “grocery bagger for rich people” and a hostess at a Thai restaurant while auditioning during the day. She became emotional recalling how the restaurant offered a free meal before shifts.
“That really saved me,” she said.
Her East Lansing show embraces another one of her passions: outreach in local schools. She’s meeting Michigan State University students and hosting masterclasses for Grand Ledge High School students. Besides her pianist — and a local drummer and bassist — the Grand Ledge High School choir will join Gonzalez on stage for the Wharton finale.
Local school choirs are regular additions to Gonzalez’s concerts.
“I like to get to know young people — especially to show them a life in the arts is possible,” she said.
At about 15, she attended a performance camp where the late actor, singer and tap dancer Gregory Hines was an instructor.
“That completely changed my life,” she said. “I remember how somebody who was doing what I wanted to do looked at me and put me on the same level. Doing that for young people is so important to me.”
Gonzalez is certainly qualified to be an inspiration. She helped create the role of Nina Rosario in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “In the Heights,” from early readings to its Broadway debut.
“It was exciting for me to do something I always dreamed of,” she said. “I was the first person to sing some of those songs.”
In 2010, Gonzalez starred as Elphaba in the Broadway production of “Wicked.”
“I turned it down originally so I could continue ‘In the Heights.’ Two years later, they called again!” she said. “It was one of the most fearful times for me. I had to prove to myself in the rehearsal process — that I was good enough. I was a lot stronger than I thought I was.”
In 2016, she joined the Broadway cast of “Hamilton,” another Miranda blockbuster, as Angelica Schuyler.
When Gonzalez was recording her debut album, “Fearless,” she asked Miranda to write the title song.
“He’s a dear friend,” she said. “He’s larger than life now.”
Gonzalez also starred in “Dance of the Vampires” and “Lennon,” two plays that bombed.
“As devastating as it is, you learn a lot from something that doesn’t work,” she said. “Going on after bad reviews, I learned a lot about integrity, and I learned a lot about fearlessness.”
Gonzalez has appeared on TV shows like “The Good Wife,” “Third Watch,” “Guiding Light,” “Quantico,” “Madam Secretary” and “Only Murders in the Building,” in which she played Selena Gomez’s character’s mother. Her movie appearances include “Across the Universe,” “After,” “Better Nate Than Ever” and “Man on a Ledge,” and her voice is heard as Mei in “Mulan II.”
On top of all that, she has published four young-adult books in her “Fearless” series. She said her 11-year-old daughter “absolutely” influenced her writing.
The series ended, but Gonzalez “definitely will continue to write stories,” she said.
“When I get up, I write. That’s my favorite time,” she said. “I’m so blown away that I had this idea and decided to write about that idea, and people said, ‘Yes.’ It means so much to me when I see young people have read the books and come up to me to sign the book.”
Based on her book series, Gonzalez started the social media movement #FEARLESSSQUAD, which empowers kids and teens to dream big, embrace differences, look for the good in everything and help each other when they fail.
“A lot of young people were writing to me and telling me of feeling alone and helpless,” she said. “I put it into the metaverse, and I had no idea it would catch thousands and thousands of people.”
Gonzalez is also passionate about supporting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. While in “Hamilton,” she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Being in the production helped her cope — until COVID-19 closed the show.
“I’m a survivor now, and I feel proud of that — and lucky,” she said. “What they’re working on offers a lot of hope.”
Gonzalez attributes her drive to her grandparents, who are Mexican on her father’s side and Jewish, Polish and Romanian on her mother’s. She said having a hardworking immigrant background has been an inspiration. She learned that nothing was going to happen without hard work, and it’s gotten her pretty far.
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