Jewish ‘Hamilton’ star to perform at JAA fundraiser
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Broadway under the starsJune 24 drive-in style event

Jewish ‘Hamilton’ star to perform at JAA fundraiser

The singer and actress, who plays Angelica Schuyler on Broadway, says she was musically influenced by both sides of her family — her Mexican American father, and her bubbe

Mandy Gonzalez (Photo courtesy of LML Music)
Mandy Gonzalez (Photo courtesy of LML Music)

Since April 2020, Broadway star Mandy Gonzalez has been singing for audiences from her Maplewood, New Jersey, living room.

It’s a far cry from 46th Street’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, where, since 2016, she had been starring as Angelica Schuyler in the smash-hit musical “Hamilton.”

But if Gonzalez was shaken by COVID’s shuttering of theaters, one can’t tell by chatting with the effervescent Jewish performer, who is flush with optimism.

“During this pandemic, all actors had to pivot because we had to figure out how to make a living during this time,” Gonzalez told the Chronicle in a recent Zoom call. “So I’ve been doing a lot of virtual concerts, and that’s how I’ve been able to connect with people and to perform and to feel creative. And I’ve loved it.”

Gonzalez will be performing virtually in Pittsburgh on June 24 at the Jewish Association on Aging’s annual benefit, this year dubbed “Broadway Under the Stars.” The drive-in style event will feature a live concert projected on a big screen in Heinz Field’s Gold Parking Lot.

In addition to her star turn in “Hamilton,” Gonzalez played Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway, and originated the role of Nina in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.”

She also has been featured on television’s “Madam Secretary” and “Quantico.”

Gonzalez was raised in Santa Clarita, California, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Mexican American father. Her father was a singer during high school in Northern California, performing in a band called The Enchantments. At the age of 18, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Her mother, who was from Southern California, began writing letters to soldiers during the war — and the two met and fell in love as pen pals.

Gonzalez credits both sides of the family with nurturing her musical chops.

“I feel so lucky because, from my father’s side, I was introduced to Bolero singers, ranchera singers, just big sounds like Selena,” she said. “And then on my bubbe’s side, I was introduced to Ethel Merman and Eydie Gormé and Judy Garland and all these people that I love. I think because I was part of two cultures, I really got the best of both worlds as far as music.”

Her bubbe, in fact, was a member the choir at the senior facility where she lived before passing away at the age of 97.

Gonzalez was raised Jewish, had a bat mitzvah when she was 13, and now has a daughter who attends Hebrew school.

“My mother said to my dad, after they got married, ‘We’re Jewish,’” Gonzalez said. “And my dad just said, ‘OK.’ And my dad still goes to synagogue with my mom, he goes to every seder. He is a big part of that community. And he will be the first one to tell you if the brisket is good or the meatballs are too hard.”

Gonzalez is thrilled, she said, to be “coming back to Pittsburgh,” albeit virtually. In 2015, she entertained at the Cabaret at Theater Square — to a “packed audience” — but that was not her first appearance here. She came to Pittsburgh as a backup singer with Bette Midler at the age of 19.

“Pittsburgh, audiences have always just been so wonderful, and so wonderful to me,” she said. “Pittsburgh is just so supportive of the arts. I can’t wait to be back.”

Broadway and classic rock music fans alike will appreciate Gonzalez’s JAA playlist, which includes songs from several musicals she’s been in, a Bruce Springsteen tune and a Barbra Streisand standby.

And yes, she will be singing “Satisfied,” one of her showstoppers from “Hamilton.”

Gonzalez will be rejoining the cast of “Hamilton” when the show reopens on Sept. 14. Rehearsals begin in August, and she is looking forward to performing again before live audiences.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “It’s such a great show, and it’s always, I think, a very timely show. And I just can’t wait. I hope that audiences fill the place. To hear a live audience again will be incredible.”

In the meantime, she is geared up to perform for Pittsburgh from her living room, with her husband, the artist Douglas Melini, working tech.

“My husband always makes a joke, like today we’re in the living room, tomorrow the bathroom,” she said. “But we’re in the living room. And since I started doing these concerts, every concert I’ve done has been just better and better and more perfected in this virtual life. So now I feel like we definitely have it down. It’s just a lot of fun.”

The JAA event opens with strolling entertainment, drive-in fare for each guest, and a pre-concert presentation. Tickets can be purchased at bit.ly/AOATickets21. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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