When Mandy Gonzalez first came to New York City as a young wannabe theatre star, her first Broadway callback was for Rent in front of noted casting director Bernie Telsey, and she turned to her favorite audition song, “Acid Queen” from The Who’s Tommy.
“I have been a fan of Tommy pretty much since I was eight-years-old, when it came through Los Angeles and my grandmother took me to see it,” Gonzalez says. “It was everything I loved. It was musical theatre, it was rock n’ roll, and ‘Acid Queen’ became the song I wanted to sing all the time.”
This continued to be her go-to song throughout her first year of city life, and eventually led her to booking her first Broadway show, as a standby for Idina Menzel’s Princess Amneris in Aida. So, when Gonzalez was offered the chance to play Mrs. Walker in the Washington, D.C. production at the Kennedy Center, directed by Josh Rhodes, it was an opportunity she couldn’t turn down.
Based on the classic album of the same name, The Who‘s Tommy is a rock opera about a “deaf, dumb, and blind” kid who triumphs over his disabilities to become an international pinball star. The Walkers are his parents who struggle to get through to their son.
Gonzalez, who has spent the past two-and-a-half years playing Angelica Schuyler on Broadway in Hamilton, was able to do the production thanks to the Broadway Center Stage series’ short one-week run, April 24-29, which didn’t require her to miss much time from the Richard Rodgers Theatre and the mega-hit.
“They told me they would work around my Hamilton schedule so to not have to miss too many shows and to still be able to spread my wings as an actress was really appealing,” she says. “This is a character that I feel I can really relate to now. I’m a mother now, so I know where Mrs. Walker is coming from. I was so excited to dive into this score.”
Tony Award winner Christian Borle will play opposite Gonzalez as Captain Walker, and he notes it’s a show he has a deep connection to.
“After graduating from Carnegie Mellon, I moved to New York in 1995 and it was the first show I saw,” he said. “I was in the back row of the back mezzanine, and I was just bowled over by it and fell in love with how cool the show was. After the Broadway production, the original creative team opened up a company in Offenbach Germany and I ended up getting cast as Pinball Lad #1, and spent five months doing Tommy to very happy German audiences.”
Joining the Broadway favorites as the titular Tommy is Casey Cott, best known as Kevin Keller on the hit CW series Riverdale.
“I’ve been familiar with Tommy since I was in high school; if you’re a theatre nerd, ‘Pinball Wizard’ is just one of those songs that everyone knows, and that’s how I was first introduced to it,” he says. “Plus, my dad is a huge classic rock fan, so The Who has been played throughout our stereo system since we were children.”
As a star on the rise on one of the biggest shows on TV, Cott is tied up nearly ten months a year working on Riverdale, though he’s been wanting to do something theatrical since college, but just couldn’t find the time. So, when he had the chance to play the most famous pinball-playing, deaf, dumb, and blind boy, he felt it was destiny.
“There’s something really fun about the first act of the musical and getting to play someone who addresses the audience directly, I really enjoy that kind of intimate experience,” Cott says. “Josh and I had such a blast talking about the underlining messages and tones of the show and how they relate to today and how they relate to me.”
Before Tommy, Cott had never met Borle before, but the two share the same alma mater in Carnegie Mellon, and he was one of the reasons Cott wanted to go to that school. During one of Tommy’s first rehearsals, the two shared what Borle described as a “special moment.”
“He very guilelessly said to me and Mandy, ‘If you have any advice or can steer me in a particular direction in this limited amount of time, please don’t hesitate to speak up,’ which I felt spoke to a lovely part of his character,” Borle said. “I thought that was really sweet, and he’s just knocking it out of the park. He sounds amazing.”
Cott grew up a musical theatre fan—his brother Corey has been on Broadway in shows like Newsies and Bandstand—and he likes that his involvement in Tommy is projected to bring in some younger audience members, who he hopes will benefit from its universal message.
“In Act 2, this guy becomes this hugely famous icon and that is so relevant today—especially with social media and people thinking they want that. And all of a sudden, Tommy doesn’t want that anymore and wants to be normal and be with his family,” Cott says. “I think while it is a bit older, timeless pieces create relevancy in a way that they didn’t even know were going to be relevant when they were created.”
Gonzalez also feels the cast will attract some new generations to the show, who maybe were unfamiliar with the music or Broadway production. After all, the rock opera originally ran on Broadway from 1993–1995, the movie was released in 1975, and the album from which it’s all based is 50 years old.
“This is definitely a musical that hasn’t been seen by a whole generation, and many don’t know The Who and their music, but it needs to be seen,” Gonzalez says. “It’s something that I would love to see move on to Broadway again.”