Interview: Linedy Genao May Be Bad Cinderella, But On Your Feet! Will Always Be Her Fairytale
Genao, who will soon star on Broadway in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bad Cinderella, revisits the job that started it all at Paper Mill Playhouse.
Just last week, Andrew Lloyd Webber introduced Linedy Genao as the performer who will lead the Broadway transfer of his new musical, Bad Cinderella. But before you give Sir Andrew all the credit for discovering this rising Broadway star, you should head to Paper Mill Playhouse to see Genao pay homage to the woman who truly launched her unexpected career.
Less than a decade ago, Genao was a banker who, on a whim, went to an open call for the lab of On Your Feet!, the Gloria Estefan musical. Her reasoning, as she recalls, was simple: "I grew up on her music. I'm Latina. I don't have to pretend to be anyone else." Suddenly, she found herself in Broadway boot camp where she learned everything from how to bevel to prop etiquette — "You're not allowed to touch props unless they're given to you," she can now explain with the wisdom of hindsight. "I went one time to grab my prop and I kind of got yelled at."
By 2015, Genao was in a Broadway ensemble, and soon after, center stage as Gloria herself, understudying the show's original star Ana Villafañe. She looks back on this time as one filled with both immense excitement and looming anxiety with imposter syndrome rearing its head at every turn. It's been five years since closing the Broadway production, and with an established and blossoming career underfoot, she returns to the musical at Paper Mill Playhouse — now as its one-and-only Gloria — with a sweet balance of nostalgia and anticipation to claim the space she finally knows she deserves.
You've been involved with On Your Feet! since its early workshop days. Tell me about how the show first came into your life.
I have a pretty unique story. I went to college for business and worked in banking. I loved to sing since I was little but I never pursued it professionally because I didn't think I was good enough. I only had theater experience from high school and community theater in my hometown of Hamden, Connecticut. A friend of mine sent me a Facebook message that said, "Hey, they're having an open call for the lab of On Your Feet!, the Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical," and I was like, "Let me just try." So I took a selfie on my iPhone 4, printed it at Walgreens, and that was my headshot. I went to the open call with a bunch of bags because at the time I was living with my grandmother in Brooklyn Monday through Friday. I was working in the city at a bank and was commuting back home to Connecticut on weekends to switch out all of my clothes. So I went to the open call, and from there I was chosen to be a part of the lab in the ensemble originating my own track and understudying Gloria for the out-of-town run in Chicago and on Broadway.
What was it like transitioning so suddenly into a professional career as a performer?
You can ask anyone. I literally cried at rehearsal every single day because I could not believe that my dream came true. I learned everything on that show. Literally, they would give me Broadway 101 classes. This show has a very, very special place in my heart and for eight years I've been able to make this my career. I mean, I went back to banking during the pandemic, which I'm grateful for. But I don't want to go back to banking.
What were some of the most impactful things you learned during that period of time?
Vocal health. My biggest challenge over the years has been going from singing because you love to sing to singing because it's your job. I didn't think about placement, I didn't think about breath support, I didn't think about anything, which has its pros and cons of course. For so long I would just sing whatever came out of my body, whatever I felt in my heart. And now, I can't always do that because maybe I won't be able to do eight shows a week if I do it that way. When you do shows in high school and in your community they run for what, three weekends? I had no idea what it was like to do eight shows a week — the toll it takes on your body and also your mental health. I went from working Monday to Friday, nine to five, having weekends off, seeing my family all the time, to the heartbreak of "You're gonna miss the birthday and you're gonna miss the wedding and then you're gonna miss this funeral" — the sacrifices we have to make in this industry. That was very, very difficult for me.
I remember Gloria and Emilio Estefan were both extremely involved in the original development of the show. Were they around to lend advice or support?
I will never forget. It was 2014 when we were doing the lab and Gloria and Emilio showed up. I look up and I see that they entered the room and I start hysterically crying. It kind of slapped me in the face when I saw her and it was like, this is real. I'm here. I am about to meet Gloria Estefan. And then she came up to me and gave me the biggest hug and consoled me. It makes me cry thinking about it. She was like, "I'm so proud of you, I'm so grateful that you're a part of this and I cannot wait to see what you bring to this show." It was a really, really special moment.
How does it feel coming back to this show five years after closing the Broadway run?
Coming into the show when I was 24 years old, the imposter syndrome was real. That's why I would cry everyday. I was like, "Why am I here? There are so many other people who are much more qualified than I am." Even the first time I went on as Gloria — I will never forget I was hiding under the fountain for "Tradición" for the reveal where Little Gloria transforms into Big Gloria, and started hysterically crying. The dancers — we had a little window in the back of the fountain and they could see me crying and they're like, "Linedy, you're gonna be OK. Just breathe." I had to put on my brave face but that was a very difficult show for me. That's when I really got in my head and was like, "I have no experience, what am I doing here?" Coming back to this show now as a real adult, my whole life experience is so different. Even in the scene work that we're doing, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, how did I not think of this?" Because I was a naïve, excited, emotional little girl who was shot out of a cannon. It's been really beautiful to discover things that I never did because of maturity and life that I hadn't experienced yet.
I hope there's some good nostalgia involved too.
It's bringing back so many beautiful memories. I love that I get to see and wear those costumes again. Some of them still say my name. I totally geeked out too because opening this script for the first time — the main ensemble character that I played on Broadway was Rachel, but in the script, she's listed as "Linedy." So anyone having my track is playing a character named "Linedy." I literally almost fainted. I guess I was a character myself and that was good enough.