Broadway’s Lindsay Mendez on Making Her New CD, Earning a Drama Desk Nomination, and Flying High in Wicked

The multifaceted performer talks about her album, awards recognition for Dogfight, and excitement about joining the cast of Wicked.

Lindsay Mendez
Lindsay Mendez
(© Eric Ryan Anderson, Matt Murphy)

Right now, Lindsay Mendez could be found in the dictionary under “U” for ubiquitous, but that’s no problem for the talented actress or her many fans. She will be at Joe’s Pub on Wednesday, May 15 for two special concerts to help celebrate the CD of the Off-Broadway musical Dogfight; on Saturday, May 18 she and pianist Marco Paguia will be on stage at Le Poisson Rouge to preview their soon-to-be-released CD, This Time; on Sunday, May 19 she’ll be at the Drama Desk Awards, where she is nominated as Outstanding Actress in a Musical for her work in Dogfight; and on Tuesday, May 28 she joins the Broadway company of Wicked in the leading role of Elphaba. “There’s no way I could have expected all of this to go down at the same time,” says Mendez with a laugh. “It’s a lot, but I’m ready!”

In fact, Mendez and Paguia, who met three years ago while working together on the Broadway show Everyday Rapture, have been trying to put together This Time (which will be released digitally on May 28) for a couple of years. The CD puts a jazz-fusion spin on such pop hits as Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” Regina Spektor’s “Us,” and Alicia Keys’ “No One.” “The first time we did our own gig we [played] traditional standards, but they didn’t feel super personal to us, so we thought we should see what we could do with more modern songs,” says Mendez. “Then we realized the trick was finding ways to make them genuinely ours, yet not ruin the song at the same time.”

The actress is equally excited about the Dogfight CD (with an in-store release set for May 21), as well as a Drama Desk nomination for her portrayal of Rose, a young waitress in 1960s San Francisco who ends up on a date with a visiting soldier as the result of a cruel contest to find the ugliest girl in town. “When I first read the script, I immediately related to Rose. I am not a beauty queen and I was not the popular girl in high school,” she says. “But rehearsals were hard. Being called ugly every day is not easy on the psyche. But we’ve all been that person, who wants to believe the best about themselves as well as other people, and I wanted to be her enough to go through that process. I think it’s important to play real people.”

Lindsay Mendez with Nick Blaemire, Derek Klena, Josh Segarra, and Annaleigh Ashford in <i>Dogfight</i>
Lindsay Mendez with Nick Blaemire, Derek Klena, Josh Segarra, and Annaleigh Ashford in Dogfight
(© Joan Marcus)

Given that the show played last summer at Second Stage Theatre, Mendez hardly expected to be remembered come awards time. “I never even thought about it, but I am so honored that people loved what I did,” she says. The nomination is doubly sweet, since Mendez was turned down for the role at her original audition. “Joe Mantello, our director, saw me doing some television interview two years later and decided I was right for the role. He is my hero. When we did the CD, it really took me a minute to get back into Rose’s head. But he came into the booth and set me straight; he reminded me who she was.”

Mantello is also the director of Wicked and he is one of the main reasons she is finally getting her chance to step into Elphaba’s pointy shoes. “I’m ready to step into the green haze,” says Mendez. “Joe has already told me to buy green sheets, green pillowcases, and green sheets. I hear the makeup really gets under your skin.”

Album artwork for <i>This Time</i>
Album artwork for This Time
(© courtesy of Lindsay Mendez and Marco Paguia)

However, Mendez mostly credits composer Stephen Schwartz with affording her the Wicked opportunity. “I did Godspell on Broadway with Stephen, and from what I hear, he’s the one who really wanted me to do Elphaba. I have to admit it wasn’t on my wish list, but now that I’m in rehearsals, I realize it’s a really great part. It’s a tough show to do eight times a week, and everybody keeps asking me if I’m going to be OK. But I felt that way about both Dogfight and Godspell. You can’t think about the fear; you just have to allow yourself to go on that ride and become that character. And at the end of the day, I’m an eight-shows-a-week kind of girl.”

Unlike her previous roles, Elphaba also carries a unique responsibility to the show’s ardent young fans, who traditionally line up after every show to meet the cast. “I’m ready for all the girls at the stage door. When I was younger, I used to wait to get autographs,” says Mendez. “It’s part of the job. But more than that, it’s cool that we’re inspiring people [who are] that young to love theater. I think that’s super important. Otherwise, we won’t have jobs in the future.”