Mandy Gonzalez, 42, a California bat mitzvah girl who grew up to stand in line for New York City casting calls, is now cancer free.
But it hasn’t always been that way. She endured chemotherapy while performing in “Hamilton” – as Angelica Schuyler on Broadway in New York City – until she couldn’t. Her last performance was in March 2020, just before the pandemic shut everything down. She is now a breast cancer survivor, waiting for the pandemic to abate like the rest of us.
She said she knows how helpful it was to have a dear friend who also faced down cancer, to lean on for advice and support. It’s part of why Mandy Gonzalez will perform for the locally based ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis nonprofit, which connects those diagnosed with volunteer mentors.
“At our exclusive, virtual event on May 20th, Mandy will be performing live from New York City, singing songs from Broadway musicals, sharing personal stories and helping us raise funds to support our free emotional support services,” said ABCD Executive Director Ellen Friebert Schupper. “While donations will be accepted, this event is totally free, thanks to sponsors who not only help us continue providing free emotional support services to breast cancer patients, but also allow us to present this special event to anyone who wants to attend it.”
Schupper said several people in the local Jewish community helped make this event happen for Glendale-based ABCD and its national mission. They include Maureen Luddy, an ABCD volunteer mentor who suggested Gonzalez; Neil Willenson, managing director of Stars for Charities, who made the connection; and Michael Unger, artistic director at the Skylight Music Theatre, where a Milwaukee portion of the event will be broadcast. Schupper, also, is part of the local Jewish community.
Getting the call for ‘Hamilton’
“I’ve been so fortunate in my career to play such incredible female roles,” Gonzalez said.
Beside “Hamilton,” she is best known for her emotional portrayal of Nina Rosario in the Tony Award winning Broadway musical “In the Heights.” She starred as Elphaba in the Broadway production of “Wicked.”
Gonzalez had a recurring role on the ABC drama thriller “Quantico.” In the CBS show “Madam Secretary,” she works in the White House. She’s the voice of Mei in Disney’s “Mulan 2.”
Many times, in her career, she’s stood in lines hoping to be selected. For “Hamilton,” producers knew her work and called her: “What do you think,” she was asked.
“I was trying to be very cool,” she recalled, having already seen a rendition of “Hamilton.”
“I wanted to so badly be a part of it. I became a fan, and I bought the cast album and I listened to it. And then to get that call it was such a dream. It has just been a dream.”
Currently, Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theater Box Office is closed, with a note online that a 2021 performance schedule for “Hamilton” there is coming soon.
Gonzalez’s parents are a story that could be straight out of one of the tales she performs on stage or screen: Her father grew up in a family of farm workers from Mexico. He was drafted to serve in Vietnam at 18. Gonzalez’s Jewish mother wrote letters to soldiers, to offer comfort. After Gonzalez’s father returned home, he drove to his pen pal’s doorstep.
“They fell in love and have been together almost 50 years now,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said her bubbe’s parents “came over” from Poland and, several years after that, her grandmother was born in St. Louis in 1922.
Gonzalez grew up hearing stories from her mother about the family sending clothes back to Europe for relatives there. Nobody knew if the clothes were received, and we now understand they perished in the Holocaust.
“I think that has always resonated with me,” Gonzalez said. “They didn’t do it because they were looking for a thank you.”
Gonzalez sees a connection to her community work – she’s done many community events and activities and recently published “Fearless,” a middle grade book on “what it means to dream, be yourself, and be fearless.”
“I think that just has stayed with me – community and family within my Jewish community,” Gonzalez said. “I feel like we just take care of one another.”
In fact, when Gonzalez arrived to try to “make it” in New York City, she felt alone but had a childhood friend there who had become a cantor. She attended her friend’s services.
Get your mammogram
“I’m doing really well,” Gonzales said. “I’m happy to say I made it. I’m cancer free.”
After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, Gonzalez asked to meet a friend at Joe Allen, a New York City restaurant near Broadway. The friend had lived experience with cancer and was able to provide support. “She called me after my surgery. After my chemotherapy treatment, she called me with little tips,” Gonzalez said, adding that it was an immeasurable benefit “to have somebody like that.”
She sees ABCD as connecting people in a similar way. Before she was contacted about it, she’d never heard of the organization.
“I’m so lucky because I have a platform,” she said.
She said she wants people to get regular mammograms.
“Sometimes self-care becomes the last thing that you think about,” she said. “Now because of the pandemic, we have so much on our plate. Trying to figure out work or trying to figure out home care. Putting yourself first is also putting our family first.”
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HOW TO GO
What: A night in with ABCD: Broadway’s Mandy Gonzalez
When: Thursday, May 20, 7 p.m.
Where: Live online.