Ladies of the Heights
In the Heights stars Priscilla Lopez and Mandy Gonzalez reveal their mutual admiration and the similarities between their onstage and offstage relationships.
THEATERMANIA: Mandy, was Priscilla an inspiration to you when you were starting out?
MG: Definitely. She paved the road for so many of us. Growing up with the last name Gonzalez, people were always telling me to change my name if I wanted to make it, and when you see somebody like Priscilla Lopez, it makes you realize that you can do it too. I remember in high school, my friend and I would play the Chorus Line CD in the car and we'd sing along. So who would have thought that I would be here in a Broadway show with her? But I also think that the way Priscilla lives her life has become such an inspiration to me as we've gotten to know each other.
TM: Priscilla, when you were starting out in the business, did people suggest you change your name?
PL: Yes, they did, and I just couldn't do it because I felt it was such a betrayal to my family and to my people. I wanted to show that we can all be part of whatever this thing is. But I'll tell you there was one time I wish I had done it -- when I went to Los Angeles after A Chorus Line. In New York, I never had a problem with Lopez and I did lots of different roles. But when I got to Los Angeles, it's like there's a different mindset of the people in charge out there, and they wouldn't even see me for things, because they saw Lopez and they just assumed they knew what and who I was. I do have to say when I was a kid, I remember I literally sat with the phone book, looking for stage names, and I somehow came up with Tracy Cartwright. And then I seemed to realize that is not what I wanted to do.
TM: Priscilla, did you have your own role models for being an actress?
PL: Yes, Mary Martin. The Sound of Music was actually the second show I ever auditioned for; I was 12 years old. And I loved Anne Bancroft in the movies -- and the day that I found out that she was married to Mel Brooks, I went "this is totally cool." I did get to meet her finally and I told her that she was my idol. And she said, "You have very good taste."
TM: Priscilla, how does the relationship between Camila and Nina mirror your own relationship with your daughter?
PL: Well, she's very much written and played how I've raised my two children, a son and a daughter. I believe that I was a disciplinarian, and I think that comes from my dancer background. I think the most important thing I tried to teach my children was to complete things. Say something, and then do it; don't do something halfway and then drop out or don't show up. It's about having a strong hand on what you want to accomplish with your family and with your children. But the funny thing is I remember saying to my daughter when I started on this show that I was playing my own mother, and she said, "No, you're not; you're playing you."
TM: Mandy, how does the relationship reflect yours with your parents?
MG: I think Nina is very close to me in so many ways. Like her, I come from a very tight family with parents who will do anything to have their children be happy and fulfill their dreams. Plus, I've always been an overachiever -- that's why I'm here -- and disappointing my parents would be as devastating to me as it is to Nina. Recently, I was talking to my parents after they came to see the show, and they started telling me things I'd never heard before. My father was a singer in a band before he ended up going to Vietnam, and they got married when he got back. When they first got together, my dad had this amplifier that he could plug his microphone into to sing with, and when they got married, he sold it even though my mom said no. He said this is what it is now and this is what I have to do.
TM: Priscilla, what advice have you given Mandy and the rest of the cast about dealing with the Tony Awards?
PL: Well, basically, it's a race that people are put in -- and are maybe not asked to be put in -- and you have to be smart about it. What also happens is that no matter how much you say you're going to be above this, you will get caught up in all the craziness. But only one person can win, and it doesn't mean that all those people who didn't weren't fantastic, because they were. It's really nice if you get to win; and I've lost and that's really terrible; I was physically sick when I lost to Kelly Bishop, even though she was my best friend. But you realize it's not the beginning and the end of everything.
TM: Priscilla, do you see a different environment for people starting out today in the theater than when you did?
PL: Yes. Listen to the voices in this show; they're Olympian. My god, you didn't have to sing like that back then. I've always thought of myself as an actress who sings and dances. I worked a lot when I started out, because you had your singing chorus and your acting chorus and then you had your principles. I could sing well enough, dance well enough, and act well enough that I was a commodity for all those different parts. I knew that if I got through the dance department, I had the job. Now it's a requirement that you have to do all of those things fantastically. So I think sometimes, where would I be if I were starting out today?
MG: It's so exciting because I've always set three goals for myself. I wanted to move to New York, I wanted to be on Broadway, and I really wanted to be on an original cast recording, and now this last part of my dream is coming to fruition. But what's really great is that somebody else like me growing up will listen to it and say that's Mandy Gonzalez and I can be like her -- just the way I hoped I could be like Priscilla.