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Mandy Gonzalez & Javier Muñoz Talk ‘Top of The World’ at The Parker

Javier Muñoz (L), Mandy Gonzalez (R)

Two stars of Lin Manuel Miranda’s smash hits Hamilton and In The Heights combine forces as Mandy Gonzalez and Javier Muñoz perform together at The Parker on Saturday, February 17 at 8pm.  After making her Broadway debut in Aida in 2001, Mandy Gonzalez has played many attention-getting roles on Broadway including Elphaba in Wicked and Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton. She originated the role of Nina Rosario in In the Heights on Broadway and enchanted audiences with her sweet yet fierce performance that resonated deeply with many first-generation college students.  A New York native, Javier Muñoz made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of In the Heights where he understudied Lin Manuel Miranda before eventually assuming the role of Usnavi. History repeated itself when Hamilton opened on Broadway and Muñoz served as the Hamilton alternate for Miranda in select shows before taking on the title role for two years and reaping glowing reviews. Together, Mandy Gonzalez and Javier Muñoz celebrate today’s greatest composers, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stephen Schwartz and other extraordinary songwriters… and share stories and songs from their careers on stage, including music from Hamilton, In The Heights, Wicked and the best of Broadway, with musical director Dan Lipton at the Piano.

It was a pleasure to sit down with Javier and Mandy for this exclusive Hotspots interview: 

At what age did you begin performing?

Mandy – It came to me very early in life as I would listen to records with my grandmother who babysat us a lot. A lot of Judy Garland and Mel Torme, etc. and I fell in love with all that music and sang along with her. My grandmother realized I had talent and she found opportunities for me to perform. She then found a youth group for me to be a part of, which was my real start, as I fell in love with it and I wanted to be the best at it. 

Javier – I took a roundabout way as I didn’t catch the bug until I was about 13. Until then I was a science nerd. However, everyone in my family is an artist so there was always art around me, but it was never an option to go into professionally. In my freshmen year I would meet my actor friends at their rehearsal, but I never went into the theater. One random day I walked in and sat in the back, and I said to myself why am I not doing this. I got cast in the next show, and from there I knew this is where I belonged. 

What was your first gig you got paid for no matter how much money?

Javier – It was in college, and I believe I was 17 and I had just gotten an agent. My first audition was for a new musical and somehow, I booked it and it was called “Miss Lulu” at the John Houseman theater. 

Mandy – I did a show at the El Capitan for the movie Tarzan. They did a show beforehand, and I got cast for that. 

When did you know performing would be your career?

Mandy – I think it was when I moved to New York from LA. I put the goal in my head that I would be on Broadway in 6 months. That didn’t happen but it was what drove me. I did get an off-Broadway gig in the first 6 months and that feeling made me realize I wanted to do this forever.

Javier – It was with my first voice teacher, Eli Stone, when I was 18. She took me on as a student and she allowed me to pay for my classes by working with her as an assistant on Sundays. During lunch on one of those Sundays she laid out for me what I was up against as a minority in this business and she said how she was going to train me so I could keep working. She said as a minority I had to do everything. After that conversation, realizing how much she believed in me, I realized this is what I was meant to do.  

When and how did the two of you meet?

We met when we both did the reading for “In The Heights.” We then did the workshop together and that’s when we really became friends. Actually, we are more than friends, we are family.

You have both worked with Lin Manuel Miranda twice in “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” tell me about Lin and those two experiences?

Javier – We created the role of Usnavi and Hamilton together and I understudied him in both roles and then eventually took them over. We have a friendship that is so beautiful, deep, and real and that friendship comes first before anything.

Mandy – I first met Lin when I was in a different short run show called “Lennon,” as he called me in for a meeting. I met a lot of people in the first meeting and we sang and then I made it to the reading and I remember sitting at the table and Lin stands up, and I could see the light in him and the way he wanted to share it in a very generous and loving way. That is just the joy of Lin Manuel, and I feel lucky to be part of his orbit. 

Other than these two shows, what has been your favorite role so far?

Mandy – One of the roles I loved to do is Elphaba in Wicked, as I was so nervous in the rehearsals because of the whole scope of it.

Javier – I’m going to say when I was at the Oregon Shakespeare festival, and I got to play the Baker in “Into the Woods.” Sondheim gave permission for us to end the show differently than most productions.

What’s your fantasy role (a role you haven’t played but want to)?

Javier – Don Quixote in Man Of La Mancha.

Mandy – Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

Describe each other in 3 words?

Mandy (about Javier) – leader, determined, and resilient

Javier (about Mandy) – role-model, fiercely-fierce, Universal-mother 

What do you do for fun?

Mandy – I go to the gym and spend time with my family and friends.  

Javier – The most important thing to me is being around the people I love. We can be doing anything, it’s just that time together. I also love to dance; just put on the music. I also love to be in nature, particularly near bodies of water. 

What should our readers expect from your show at the Parker Playhouse?  

Mandy and Javier – A musical celebration of the shows we have been in; lots of Broadway info; and New York through friendship and the connection we share. It’s a night of family and friends (bring your best friend) and sing along with us as we want to have a good time with our audience.

Is there something I didn’t ask you that you guys want to talk about?

Yes, the vocal choir is very important to us, and we use local artists in every single concert we do. We love connecting with fellow artists and sharing the stage with them. After our sound check we do a question and answer with the choir as we want to make sure that whatever it is these young people want to do a life in the arts is possible.

For more information on Javier, you can follow him at: Instagram.com/Javiermofficial, and for more information on Mandy, you can follow her at: Instagram.com/mandy.gonzalez.

For tickets or for more information, please visit Parkerplayhouse.com or call 954-462-0222.

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