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What Would Judy Do? : Mandy Gonzalez Makes Provincetown Debut

Photo: Nathan Johnson

by Steve Desroches

When Mandy Gonzalez was a little girl growing up in Santa Clarita, California, both her parents worked full-time so she spent lots of time with her bubbe, her doting grandmother who loved music. She loved music of all kinds, but in particular they shared a love for Judy Garland. As they played the albums Gonzalez would sing a long, revealing that she had a powerhouse voice for such a little girl. Ever the caretaker, her bubbe told her mother that Mandy sang so loudly that she was worried she was going to hurt herself. She needed to get this girl into singing lessons pronto! And indeed, her parents did find her a singing teacher, but Judy Garland remained the primary inspiration for young Gonzalez, with the 1961 album Judy at Carnegie Hall, the live recording of what’s often called the greatest night in show business history, as her perennial favorite and source of energy and strength in all kinds of situations.

“It’s what I put on whenever I’m flying and there’s turbulence,” says Gonzalez. “I pop the headphones on and listen to Judy. If we’re going down, I’m going down with Judy.”

In all likelihood right now in America there is a child somewhere hearing Gonzalez’s voice on a recording and feeling that same electric inspiration she feels when listening to Garland. Since those days singing in her grandmother’s living room Gonzalez has gone on to a stellar career in musical theater, with celebrated performances in the Lin-Manuel Miranda smash hit musicals In The Heights and Hamilton. And this weekend she’ll bring a little bit of both musicals and more to Provincetown  as she’s making her town debut with two shows at the Art House hosted by Sirius XM Radio star and Broadway expert extraordinaire Seth Rudetsky.

In addition to performing a variety of songs from a multitude of shows and albums, Gonzalez will also be in conversation with Rudetsky about her amazing career, which has been witness to all of the changes, and at times challenges, in American theater in the 21st century. Gonzalez made her Broadway debut in 2001 in Aida at the Palace Theater in the ensemble and as the understudy for the role of Amneris, played by Idina Menzel. But excitement over this huge accomplishment soon gave way to sorrow and fear come September 11. At home in Brooklyn preparing to go to rehearsal, Gonzalez heard the first plane hit the World Trade Center. And then, of course, the day proceeded as it did. That day impacted New York City in monumental ways, including shutting down Broadway for a couple of days, and some shows closed for good. Even once back up and running, many shows ran to near-empty houses as people were afraid or swallowed by grief over the national tragedy. Performing in Aida, Gonzalez felt conflicted. How could they entertain on Broadway when the fires in the ruins of the Twin Towers were still burning downtown. But on September 28 Gonzalez found her answer when she and hundreds of other Broadway stars assembled in Times Square to sing “New York, New York” for a commercial to encourage audiences to return to the theater. There she was with the likes of Bernadette Peters, Joel Grey, Nathan Lane, and Elaine Stritch singing about the city that they all love and that had just suffered unimaginable loss, and a lightbulb went off.

“That’s when I figured it out,” says Gonzalez. “Theater is joy. It takes people away from a scary world. It’s a reflection. It can make people think. This is what it’s all about.”

Broadway would face another existential threat when the Covid-19 pandemic, shuttering theaters for months instead of days, and then an extended period of audiences again being afraid to attend a night out at the theater. But Broadway is resilient, says Gonzalez. And indeed, ticket sales are back to pre-pandemic levels. But a July 19 op-ed in the New York Times with the title “American Theater Is Imploding Before Our Eyes” by Isaac Butler warns of not Broadway’s demise, but that of the thousands of small, regional theaters that take risks, experiment, and act as cultural incubators. The old business model no longer works, and Butler suggests a public bailout just as banks and corporations receive. He especially notes that Hamilton got its start at a small nonprofit theater and that’s gone on to become a cultural phenomenon. “I think some people think Broadway is all there is,” says Gonzalez. “But all the smaller, regional theaters around the country, they fuel the fire that keeps it all going.”

Gonzalez speaks with such fiery enthusiasm and a commitment to optimism revealing a love for theater that could solve such a crisis. She just finished a run of Destiny of Desire at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and cites the historic performance space as exactly the kind of theater that the foundation of Broadway is built on. With its three stages, all featuring shows of everything from the reading of new works to Shakespeare, we need it all, says Gonzalez. Our culture depends on it. And having been part of In The Heights and Hamilton and seeing how worth that long road from small theater to Broadway is and how that’s where the magic is found, she shudders to think of a world that didn’t give Lin-Manuel Miranda a shot.

“When we were at the table read for In The Heights, Lin said to us ‘None of you know the music yet, so I’ll sing all the parts’,” says Gonzalez. “I thought to myself ‘Who is this guy and how to I get to be a part of this forever?’ He’s just such a bright light. He’s forever changed theater. His influence is enormous. He’s someone you want to follow. It’s just so exciting to work with Lin. He brings out the best in everyone. He’s just a big, bright light in this world.”

Mandy Gonzalez performs at the Art House, 214 Commercial St., with Seth Rudetsky as host and pianist on Friday, July 28 and Saturday, July 29 at 6 p.m. Tickets ($50/$75/$100) are available at the box office and online at For more information call 508.487.9222.

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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