DIVA TALK: Chatting With Godspell Star Lindsay Mendez

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Lindsay Mendez
Lindsay Mendez

LINDSAY MENDEZ
Lindsay Mendez, whose previous Broadway credits include Sherie Rene Scott's rapturous Everyday Rapture and the most recent revival of Grease, can now be seen in the acclaimed Broadway revival of Stephen Schwartz's Godspell, the rock musical that relates parables of Jesus, at the Circle in the Square Theatre. The high-energy, often-humorous production, which is directed by Daniel Goldstein with choreography by Tony Award nominee Christopher Gattelli, features a multi-talented company that also includes Hunter Parrish as Jesus, Wallace Smith as Judas, Uzo Aduba, Nick Blaemire, Celisse Henderson, Morgan James, Telly Leung, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle and George Salazar. Mendez gets the chance to belt out Schwartz's "Bless the Lord," and belt she does; in fact, the young singing actress possesses one of the more exciting voices that's on display this season. The artist also gets to explore her jazzier side when she performs in concert with her musical director Marco Paguia (the duo regularly play such Manhattan nightspots as Joe's Pub and the Laurie Beechman Theatre).  Last week, I had the chance to chat with the vivacious performer about her latest Broadway outing; that interview follows:

Question: Since we haven't spoken before, let's start at the beginning. Where were you born and raised?
Lindsay Mendez: I was born in Southern California in a city called Norwalk. I grew up there until I moved up to New York when I was 18.

Question: How old were you when you started performing?
Mendez: I'd say I was about six-years-old. I did The Sound of Music. That was my first musical.

Question: What role?
Mendez: I was Gretel.

Question: When you were growing up, were there any actors or singers that you particularly admired? Anyone who influenced you?
Mendez: Yeah, I loved Judy Garland growing up, and I also loved Ella Fitzgerald.

Mendez at a recent Birdland concert
photo by Monica Simoes

Question: When did performing change from a hobby to when you thought it was going to be your career?
Mendez: I'd say probably when I got around high school age, I decided this is what I wanted to do with my life, and I went to a performing arts high school in Orange County—The Orange County High School of the Arts. That's when I was like, "Okay, I think this is what it's going to be for me," so I studied musical theatre there for four years, and then just kind of thought that moving to New York was the next logical step. So, that was how I moved out here.

Question: Did you come right after high school?
Mendez: I did, yeah. I never went to college.

Question: What was your first professional job?
Mendez: My first professional job was at a company called Reprise in California, which is basically the Encores! of L.A. I did Call Me Madam there, and Stephanie Block was in it with me, and Karen Morrow was the lead, and there were all these New York people in it, but it was an L.A. show. I did that my senior year of high school, and that was my first Equity job.

Question: That must have been fun. How was Karen Morrow in that part?
Mendez: She was amazing. She was unbelievable, and Stephanie Block was her understudy, which was very odd [laughs] because Stephanie was in her 20s. And, that never happened—she never went on. But, yeah, Karen was unbelievable. I was the only person my age in it, and it was a really awesome experience. Hugh Panaro was in it. God, who else? Gerry McIntyre. Just all these people that now I see ten years later, and I'm like, "Wow. That happened." [Laughs.]

Question: And, was Grease your first Broadway show?
Mendez: It was my first Broadway show, yeah.

Question: Do you remember your first preview on Broadway? I'm always curious how that lives up to what your thought of it was going to be.
Mendez: It wasn't as magical as I thought, only because I was so nervous, and you're working so hard, and then it's over and you're like, "Oh. Oh, that was my Broadway debut. Okay. Wow." [Laughs.] Then, as we kept running, I think that's when it really like hit me like, "Wow. I'm going to work every day at this address" and how awesome it is. I think it kind of takes a while because you're so in your head, and you're trying to figure out how the show's going to work and what the audience thinks and the timing and all of those things. But, that first night wasn't quite that magical experience I think I thought it was going to be.

Mendez in Everyday Rapture.
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: When would you say you had that magical night? Maybe it wasn't in that show, but has there been that…
Mendez: Definitely. For me, Everyday Rapture… Our opening was that magical night because that show, we didn't know if it would ever see a Broadway run, and it was so fast the way it all unfolded, and because I'd done the show with the girls Off-Broadway, it just meant so much to us, and there was so much invested, and we all worked on it for so long, and that show, to me, was that amazing moment of like, "Wow. We did this. It happened." I'd say that was when I had that experience.

Question: What was it like working with Sherie on that show? I really loved that production.
Mendez: It was unbelievable. Unbelievable. I think Sherie is just the most magnificent performer—and human being—and I was so honored to stand next to her with Betsy [Wolfe] and kind of watch her go through that show every night. She's just so kind and so wonderful, and the three of us just bonded like sisters—we still are—and I would back her up the rest of my life. I think she's extraordinary.

Question: Getting to Godspell. How did this production come about for you?
Mendez: Well, I had worked with the director, Danny Goldstein, on a couple of concerts. And then, I got a call to come in for the show… I knew that the audition process was really tough. You had to do all this parable work, and a lot of people were canceling their auditions. They were like, "It's too hard. I can't come up with what they want me to, and I'm just not going to go in." So, I was pretty stressed about it, but I was like, "I feel like this is the right thing," and I went in and did my best. The process was very long. It was about a four-month casting process of being told "maybe" and waiting and waiting, and in the meantime, I went to do another project of Danny's at the O'Neill. Danny and I were working together, and I'm waiting to hear if I'm in his Broadway show or not. [Laughs.] It was very complicated. But then, you know, at the end of the day, I ended up getting the job, and it was totally worth waiting for—I will say that, 100 percent.

Mendez and Wallace Smith in Godspell.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Question: Do you remember your reaction when you found out you were cast? What's that like for an actor?
Mendez: It was huge. I mean, it was so exciting. It was so much relief that that process was over. Sometimes, whether you get it or you don't get it, you're just like, "Just tell me, so I can move on." You don't want to invest, but at some point, you have to invest because you've gone in [to audition] so many times. And, you know, I always tell myself, "It's fine. Whatever happens is supposed to happen." But, at some point, you have to want it, and I really wanted it. I just knew that this was going to be a really special show, and I love Danny so much, and I think he's so creative… It was so awesome when I got it, and I was doing a workshop at the time, so I got the call five minutes before I had to go into a rehearsal, so I couldn't even call people to tell them I got it because I literally got the call and then I had to go. I'm sitting in this reading freaking out, and I can't even tell anyone. [Laughs.] It was a long day, and when it was finally over, I could go out and celebrate and make all my phone calls to my family and tell them that it's over. And, my poor friends who had to sit with me for four months analyzing whether not hearing one day meant I did or did not get it. I mean, it can really take up your life. [Laughs.]

Question: What was the rehearsal process like, since there is ad-libbing in the show?
Mendez: Yeah, Danny had certain games or ideas in mind for parables, and he would be like, "In this parable, I want so-and-so to do the narration, and I want you to play the king," but then he would just be like, "Okay, you guys, let's just try some stuff and see what happens." So, it was so collaborative, which, at the time, there are moments of greatness, where we would come up with things immediately, and then, after two weeks, there would be certain parables that just weren't right and we'd go back to the drafting board, and back and back and back, and we all were just depleted and like, "Nothing's funny anymore!" But, at the end of the day, getting to create that together, I think, gives us such a sense of ownership of the show. I think it really comes across every night that we're super proud of the work that we've put into it. It feels so good to have the audience enjoy it as much as they do, and know that we spent a lot of time and effort creating this stuff, and it's very personal to us. It was really awesome.

Mendez in Godspell.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show, something you look forward to doing every night?
Mendez: Yeah, I do a parable of the rich man with George Salazar that comes right before my song, "Bless the Lord," and I love doing that parable. I basically lip-synch his words while he talks for me in this really funny Mexican accent because he and I are the Latinos in the show, and it's really, really fun. I get stuff thrown at my face. [Laughs.] It's very fun, and I have a great time doing that every night. It's one of my favorite moments.

Question: The cast seems very close. Is it?
Mendez: Yeah, it's a very close company. When you go into something like that and you have to kind of bare it all immediately and embarrass yourself and fall on your face right away, you kind of grow respect very fast and realize that everyone is giving their all in this cast. No one comes in not giving 100 percent every single night. It's really amazing, and we all just have a really good time together. They did an excellent job casting the show. It's just the right people with the right energy and the right heart, and it's truly like a really great family.

Question: What's it like getting to sing your song and the whole Stephen Schwartz score every night?
Mendez: Yeah, it's pretty incredible. I just think Stephen Schwartz is so unbelievable, and I was super-intimidated going in… Once I got the job, I was like, "Oh my gosh! Now I have to do this song every night. Can I do it? Can I live up to the expectation that I think there is out there?" But, right away, I went in and they said, "We want these arrangements to cater to what you guys bring and your strengths." [Stephen Schwartz] and Michael Holland, our orchestrator, were just so happy to arrange it for each person, and I think that really comes through. That was amazing to get to collaborate with him and get to make my own choices and to work with things he wanted me to do. It was so collaborative and awesome, and I love doing it every night, and the audience loves the music so much, and why shouldn't they? I think it's his best score. I love singing it every night. I never get tired of it, and I love that new people come who've never heard it before sometimes and say, "This is amazing!" I love getting to give new audiences this music. I'm so proud to do it.

Mendez and cast
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Question: How much does the show change night-to-night?
Mendez: I'd say most of it stays the same, but we definitely are encouraged to try new things. There'll be nights where someone will give something a shot, and it'll either be really great or really bad, and we'll be like, "Alright. Note taken. Not that again." [Laughs.] But, when current events happen, especially political moments, when they go down, we're really encouraged to fit them in the show somehow, so we'll all kind of huddle together and be like, "Let's do this. Let's do this." Tomorrow, we have a rehearsal with Danny, and we're going to put in some new changes and make things different, and I just love that. I feel like the show is so alive and breathing, and it's so nice to not have such limitations and feel like, "You know what, I'm going to try saying this line differently tonight," and it's awesome that we get that opportunity and that he trusts us enough to do it, which is really cool. I'm sure it makes my stage manager crazy, but it's a lot of fun for us. [Laughs.]

Question: I know there is a bit of audience interaction. What's the craziest thing that's happened, either on the stage or in the audience?
Mendez: We throw props at [the audience] that they get to keep, and there are like full-out fights over getting those things sometimes. [Laughs.]… Which is terrifying. It happens during my song, too, so I'm trying to belt and watching people argue over getting these little things we throw. Every once in a while, we have the person who we bring up who thinks that they're going to be discovered that night onstage, so I try and choose wisely, and not choose someone who looks like they're an actor because it's a lot more fun to choose someone who's not after that and is just there to have a good time… Well, we bring up three people and I pick two of them, so I'm very involved in that part of the show, but I did The Marvelous Wonderettes, and we had to pick people, and I always had to pick them. I feel that my radar is good on who to choose, and I really don't give them a choice. I literally run down, grab their hand and say, "You want to come up, don't you?" and I bring them up. They really don't have a choice in the matter. [Laughs.] Question: I always stare at the floor at moments like that, hoping that…
Mendez: Yeah, definitely. Oh, I would, too! I mean, I would just rather die than be chosen. I would rather die! And, I feel for these people, I really do. But, you know, at the end of the day, they do it, and the audience enjoys it so much. They really love that part of the show, and I think it's so cool to offer an audience that experience. It's just that type of show.

Mendez recording the Godspell cast album
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Question: It's such a great space for Godspell. I think it fits really well in that theatre.
Mendez: Yeah, I can't imagine doing a show there and not being all over the theatre and talking to people—having the audience involved in the show directly. It just seems like the perfect marriage. And, I love getting to look at the audience and talk to them directly and have them come up on stage. I just think it's so neat. I think the audience really responds to it. They're so supportive of us by the end because they really feel like they've gotten to know us, and that doesn't happen all the time. I think it's really cool.

Question: Do you have other projects in the works or are you just focusing on Godspell at the moment?
Mendez: I do. I have a show that I've been working on for a bit called 35mm, which is a multimedia song cycle by Ryan Scott Oliver, where each song is based on a photographic image… It's kind of this art gallery / musical that we're going to be doing at the Galapagos Arts Space in March. And, I'm doing that on my nights off from Godspell. It's a five-person show, and I've been working on it for about two years. I collaborate with him all the time, and the photos are by this really great photographer, Matthew Murphy. We're doing a couple of shows down at Galapagos, and then we're making an album for the show as well. So, I'm doing that, and then I have my jazz band that keeps me crazy busy, and we're hoping that this is the year that we make our first album, so we gig all over the place. That's a big passion of mine and something that I'm trying to really get off the ground, and Godspell has helped a lot to get us out there and get more people to come to our gigs.

Question: It sounds like it's a great time for you.
Mendez: Yeah, it's going well. I feel so lucky, and this show has opened up a lot of doors for me. It's really been an awesome time and a hard time. Don't get it twisted, the show is so hard! I'm working my butt off, but I love it. I love getting to meet all the people I've gotten to meet, and the family is so good there. I'm so proud to be a part of it every day.

[Tickets for Godspell are available by calling Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com/godspell.  Circle in the Square Theater is located at 1633 Broadway at 50th Street. Visit www.godspell.com for more information.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com. View highlights from the show:

 

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