Broadway Star Visits With Southern Regional High School Performing Arts Students

Oct 17, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Before Mandy Gonzalez left the newly renovated Southern Regional High School auditorium on Oct. 12, she gathered with the several hundred students on or around the stage for a giant group photo. No doubt it was the highlight of the month for many of them.

“Hearing her story helped me realize how fortunate I am to be at Southern Regional,” said junior Alexa Tabbacchino, who is scheduled to join a group of students to sing back-up behind Gonzalez during an upcoming show at Ocean County College’s Grunin Center on Nov. 2. “To see where she came from to where she is now is absolutely wonderful and extremely inspiring. Her story tells us that having the downfalls and lowest of lows in life makes you appreciate it more when you have the highest of highs. Getting from Point A to Point B in such a successful way in her life has been phenomenal.”

During a casual time of simply sharing her story with the students, Gonzalez talked about her humble beginnings as the child of a Mexican father and Jewish mother, being “the only Gonzalez in Hebrew school” as part of a hard-working family from a small town in Northern California, and through taking any opportunity she could to sing in front of an audience, ultimately rising to become a Broadway star.

“Anything is possible as long as you dream,” Gonzalez said. “I loved to sing, all the time. But when you love it, some people ask you to do it, and they will give you things. When I was a kid, people would ask me to sing at Christmastime, at their house, to sing a Christmas carol, and when I would leave they’d give me a gift. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing! I’m going to do this all the time!’ So I kept doing it, and that’s where my journey really began.”

With the love and support of parents who took her anywhere possible to sing – from malls to local gatherings and backyard parties – and the encouragement of a grandmother who “thought there was something wrong with me because I was loud,” Gonzalez learned being different was a blessing, not a hindrance.

“There’s no right or wrong when it comes to dreams,” she said. “It’s not always about doing the exact right thing. It’s about trying things. You say ‘yes’ and take chances.”

Once Gonzalez had made the decision to pursue a career in singing and acting, she eventually landed in New York “with a thousand dollars in my pocket,” moved to Brooklyn, where “I hit the pavement and starting working by packing rich people’s groceries at Dean & DeLuca.”

“I got my first job in an off-Broadway show, ‘Eli’s Comin’,’ for which I won an Opie Award,” she said. “And my life has never been the same.”

On Broadway, Gonzalez has starred in a half-dozen productions, including “Aida” (2001-02), “Dance of the Vampires” (2002-03), “Lennon” (2005), “In the Heights (2008-10), “Wicked” (2010-11), and currently in the Richard Rodgers Theatre production “Hamilton,” in which she plays Angelica Schuyler.

Gonzalez also has performed in several roles for film and television, including “The Good Wife,” “Third Watch,” “Madam Secretary” and “Across the Universe.” She also operates a social media group dubbed “Fearless Squad,” through which she encourages others to “be yourself and be different.”

Following her talk, as she wrapped up a question-and-answer session with students, Gonzalez took a moment for some entertainment, inviting students Connor Haseman and Jonathan Leach to perform a portion of the “Hamilton” rap tune “Guns and Ships.” It was a raucous rendition, but nonetheless appreciated by Gonzalez.

“That was awesome,” she said. “You guys did that so much better than I ever could.”

Afterward, Gonzalez spent some time rehearsing with the students who are scheduled to perform on Nov. 2, including junior Mikaela McGovern.

“Sometimes we might imagine people like her, who are very successful, not having gone through a lot of the same things we go through,” McGovern said. “But what her story proves is that you can overcome every obstacle, no matter what it is.

“It’s hard to say what it will be like performing with her because it’s probably something you just have to experience first. But after hearing her story and knowing what she’s done, I think it’s going to be a very special experience.”

— David Biggy

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