DIVA TALK: Chatting with In the Heights' Justina Machado Plus News of Buckley, Leavel, LuPone

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with In the Heights' Justina Machado Plus News of Buckley, Leavel, LuPone
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Justina Machado
Justina Machado

Actress Justina Machado, best known for her portrayal of Vanessa Diaz on the award-winning HBO series "Six Feet Under," is currently making her Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Machado is temporarily filling in for Andrea Burns as the sassy hairdresser Daniela in the musical penned by Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes. Machado, whose screen credits also include "In the Electric Mist," "The Accidental Husband" and "Pedro," was also part of the cast of the ill-fated musical The Mambo Kings, which never quite made it to Broadway, and she will be seen this fall in the new TV series "Three Rivers." Last week I had the chance to chat with the vivacious performer, who spoke about her Broadway debut, Mambo Kings and more; that brief interview follows.

Question: How did the role in In the Heights come about for you?
Justina Machado: I went to go see [In the Heights] last year in August because a friend of mine was playing the father, and I just loved, loved the show. I don't really know how [the casting came about] — just by the grace of God, me putting it out there. All I know is I loved the show and [Daniela] was my favorite part, and I [thought], "God, if I ever get the opportunity to play that role, it would just be so great." And then the opportunity came about that Andrea Burns was going away for a little bit on a vacation and they needed somebody in. I was lucky enough to be that person.

Question: Had you done much musical theatre before Heights?
Machado: No. I did Mambo Kings that never made it to Broadway. We were in San Francisco, and after San Francisco it kind of died, [so] this is only my second musical theatre thing.

Question: What was the rehearsal process like? I know sometimes you don't get that much time when you're stepping in to a role.
Machado: Exactly. It was horrible! [Laughs.] It was so funny because everybody was like, "Are you having a good time?" I was like, "No, I'm not having a good time. This is scary. This is terrible!" [Laughs.] But they said, "Don't worry, you're gonna be fine. We know that the first week is super-scary." I had two-and-a-half weeks of rehearsal. It was scary, but it all came together. They were right.

Question: What was that first night like for you onstage?
Machado: The first night I was on adrenaline. I had so much energy. I don't even remember it. It's not until the second night that you remember and you're like, "Oh, I'm supposed to be here, I'm supposed to be there." It all kind of fell in to place the first night, but I was just running on adrenaline. It's a total fog to me, a haze. [Laughs.]

Justina Machado with Janet Dacal in In the Heights
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: What would you say the biggest challenge has been?
Machado: I think that the biggest challenge was the music, which is so great, but it's so precise.… What I just found out, especially with this musical and this is why it's such a successful musical, is it's so precise. You really have to be on the money. I've never done anything so beautiful but yet so precise. If you're two steps on the stage to your right, literally half an inch, you can bump into another person because there's so much going on. Coming from the world of television, it's not that precise. You just have to stand on your mark, and the camera follows you. That was [the biggest challenge], being aware of everything all the time. Question: How would you describe the character?
Machado: She's the best. I love her. She's like the matriarch… Besides Abuela, who's the matriarch, she's like next in line. She's kind of the big sister to everyone. She says it herself, "Tough love." But she really, really does love deeply. She's just no-nonsense, and she's a hustler and she's a survivor. She's funny.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her?
Machado: I do. I think it's so funny when Vanessa's dancing with Usnavi and Sonny, and [Daniela] comes outside and breaks this beautiful [moment] and [yells], "Vanessa!!!" I think that's so funny. [Laughs.] "I'm thirsty! Come on, give me my drink!" That is one of my favorite moments.

Question: Was Broadway a dream of yours?
Machado: Oh my God, my whole life! This is all I ever wanted to do. I moved here from Chicago 15 years ago to do that and ended up in L.A. I got a job in Los Angeles five months later, and I've been in L.A. since then. But this is my main thing. I wanted to come here to do this, and I finally got here!

Question: How does the actuality of Broadway live up to what your dream of it was?
Machado: It's exactly what I thought it was gonna be. It's so rewarding, it's so amazing — and, also, to be part of a show that really means something. It truly has lived up to everything that I expected it would be.

Question: It seems like there's a real sense of family among the cast — everyone's really personally invested in the show as well.
Machado: Everyone! The stage manager said that the other day. He said, "This is just one of the most amazing groups of people I've ever worked with — they are so invested." And maybe that's why this project is so amazing, because they are. They give you everything every single night, and they're so happy to do it. There's no complaints, there's no, "I'm so tired!" It's all happiness and love over there.

In the Heights gals Marcy Harriell, Justina Machado, Mandy Gonzalez and Janet Dacal
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Did you get to work at all with Lin-Manuel Miranda?
Machado: No, I didn't. I actually had to sing for Lin-Manuel. That was when I met him for this role. We've had emails between us and that one meeting, but no. Great guy. It would have been great to work with him. I saw him in it. He was amazing! Question: Tell me about your experience with Mambo Kings.
Machado: That was also great. That was a great family. It's too bad. That was one of those that we mourned when it didn't happen, because it was the same kind of family. Everybody involved was so talented, and they were also giving so much of themselves. It just didn't quite come together. But it truly was a really wonderful experience, which made me even want to do it more.

Question: You were also on one of my favorite series of all time, "Six Feet Under." What was it like working on that series, which was so different than anything else on TV?
Machado: It was a lot of fun, but I don't think we realized how important it was while we were doing it. That's what's interesting about it. Everybody was great, everybody was so professional. There were no divas on set, there were no attitudes — everybody went there to really do their best. . . [but] you didn't know how good it was. I knew that it was a great show, but I didn't know what impact it was having until it was over. I guess I would say I'm very proud and really honored to have been a part of that show because it really was different. It really changed television. That finale… there's been nothing like that. I know "Will & Grace" tried to kind of do a finale like "Six Feet Under," but I don't know if there will ever be a finale like that again. That was amazing.

Question: I agree with you. It was so moving.
Machado: I know that when I watch shows, I'm always like, "I wonder what happened to this person…" ["Six Feet Under" creator] Alan Ball is so brilliant, he's just like, "Here you go. You don't have to wonder anymore." The other day when I was walking out of the theatre, this young girl, who was like 17, said, "Oh, my God, my favorite show was 'Six Feet Under,' and I have a question. How do you think Vanessa died?" I thought that was so funny. I'm like, "Oh, my God, people really love that show!" She really wanted to know how did Vanessa die. [Laughs.]

Question: What did you tell her?
Machado: It was funny. She said, "Because, you know, everybody dies. Except you didn't die and this guy didn't die…" I said, "I think Vanessa lives for a really, really long time. I can only imagine that she's 85 or 90." She goes, "Yeah, that's what I thought." It was so cute. She had unanswered questions.

Question: Who would you say you're more like Vanessa [in "Six Feet Under"] or Daniela [in In the Heights]?
Machado: Ooh, that's good. Actually, I think I'm a perfect combination of the both of them. When I watch "Six Feet Under" sometimes I'm like, "God, I was crazy on that!" I was always like, "Rico!!" [Laughs.] And then Daniela is really funny. I think it's a perfect combination, because I don't walk around screaming at Rico all the time like I did on "Six Feet Under." Question: How long will you be with In the Heights?
Machado: For a couple of months. I have to go back to L.A. I have a new show that we have to start shooting. [I'll] definitely [be here] the month of July and probably the month of August — so about two months.

Question: What's the new show you're going to be doing?
Machado: It's called "Three Rivers," and it's on CBS, and it's a medical drama. It's about heart transplants and liver transplants. It was a great pilot. Hopefully, God willing, it'll be a great series. When you've been on one of the greatest series, it's hard to live up to that. Hopefully it'll happen.

Question: Would you like to do more theatre?
Machado: Oh my God, I would love to. I said to them, "You guys are superstars here." It's unbelievable, every night, a musical! I think the next one is going to be a straight play — I'll just put it that way because my hip is already killing me. [Laughs.] I'm like, "Oh, my God!" But they're superstars. It's unbelievable what has to happen every single night. Yeah, I would love to. That's real, real work to me. It's amazing.

[In the Heights plays the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street; for tickets call (212) 307-4100 or visit Ticketmaster.com; for more information go to Intheheightsthemusical.com.]

Patti LuPone
photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Tony Award winners Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin may be headed your way! New dates have been announced for An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, the acclaimed concert act featuring the former Evita co-stars. As previously reported, An Evening will play various Australia venues July 18-29. Initial 2010 dates include Feb. 6, 2010 at the Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, NY; Feb. 27 at EJ Thomas Hall in Akron, OH; March 19-20 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA; and March 25 at the Long Center in Austin, TX; additional dates are expected. Musical director Paul Ford will be featured on piano with John Beal on bass. For more information visit www.avidtouring.com. Singer-songwriter Amanda McBroom celebrates the work of the late composer Jacques Brel on her newest solo recording. Entitled "Chanson: Amanda McBroom Sings Jacques Brel," the single CD is now in stores on the LML Music/Gecko Records label. In a statement McBroom said, "I realize now that the reason I became a songwriter was because of Brel. I was enamored of his music from the first note — I had never heard any music like this in my life; it was intelligent, so sexy, so powerful, so political, so romantic, so French!" "Chanson" was produced by Stephan Oberhoff and Michele Brourman, who both also arranged the tunes. The complete track listing follows: "Girl in an Armchair," "Early Morning Hangers On," "Songs for Old Lovers," "I Loved," "My Death," "Ca Va," "Ne Me Quitte Pas," "No, Love, You're Not Alone," "You Don't Forget The Past," "Marieke," "Carousel" and "If We Only Have Love." For more information visit www.lmlmusic.com.

Sally Mayes: After All — A Birthday Celebration is the title of Mayes' upcoming evening at Birdland. The Aug. 24 concert will celebrate a "big" birthday for actress Mayes, according to a press release. The Tony-nominated artist will be joined by several friends and former co-stars, including Patrick Brady, Jim Caruso, George Dvorsky, Lina Koutrakos, Sharon Montgomery, Billy Stritch, Lynne Wintersteller and Jessica Wright. Show time is 7 PM. Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. Tickets are priced $30 with a $10 food/drink minimum; call (212) 581-3080 or visit www.BirdlandJazz.com for reservations.

Diana DeGarmo, a Season 3 finalist on "American Idol," will join the cast of Off-Broadway's The Toxic Avenger in August. The young singing actress will step into the role of Sarah, "the sexy, blind librarian," beginning Aug. 14 at New World Stages. She will succeed Celina Carvajal, who currently plays the role. DeGarmo, who has been seen on Broadway in Hairspray and in the national tour of Brooklyn, said in a statement, "I am so excited to be coming back to New York to join the cast of The Toxic Avenger. When I saw the show, I laughed my head off. I can't wait to start rehearsal – and to be blonde again!" New World Stages is located in Manhattan at 340 West 50th Street. For tickets call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com. For more information visit www.TheToxicAvengerMusical.com.

Beth Leavel
photo by Chris Macke

Tony Award winner Beth Leavel, recently seen in the world premiere of Minsky's at the Ahmanson Theatre, will join the cast of Broadway's Mamma Mia! in September at The Winter Garden Theatre. Leavel will succeed Carolee Carmello in the role of Donna Sheridan beginning Sept. 22. That day will also mark the return of Gypsy Tony nominee John Dossett to the role of Sam Carmichael. The Winter Garden Theatre is located in Manhattan at 1634 Broadway. For more information visit www.mamma-mia.com. Dee Roscioli, who starred in the Chicago production of Wicked, will join the cast of the Broadway production of that Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman musical July 21 at the Gershwin Theatre. Roscioli will be making her Broadway debut as the green-faced Elphaba. She will join a cast that includes Alli Mauzey as Glinda, Tony Award winner Rondi Reed as Madame Morrible, P.J. Benjamin as The Wizard, Kevin Kern as Fiyero, Alex Brightman as Boq, Cristy Candler as Nessarose and Timothy Britten Parker as Dr. Dillamond. Roscioli played Grizabella in the national tour of Cats and has appeared in workshops of Dangerous Beauty and Behind the Limelight. For more information visit wickedthemusical.com.

Cry-Baby's Carly Jibson will host the July 27 Monday Nights, New Voices concert at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre. The evening, which begins at 7 PM, will celebrate the work of composer Paul Fujimoto. Vocalists will include Alex Covington, Bill Coyne, Douglas Lyons, Lauren Meltsner and Merrill Peiffer. Fujimoto will also be on hand to relate stories associated with each of the presented songs. Music director Paul Staroba will accompany the singers on piano. The New Voices series was founded by composer Scott Alan to "showcase some of today's brightest new talent in New York." The Duplex Cabaret Theatre is located in Manhattan at 61 Christopher Street. There is a $12 music charge and a two-drink minimum; for reservations call (212) 255-5438 or visit theduplex.com.

Betty Buckley

And, finally, the one-and-only Betty Buckley will offer six concerts — three with Seth Rudetsky and three with Emmy winner John McDaniel — at the The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas. Betty Buckley: Broadway By Request — featuring pianist, comedian, conductor, actor and Playbill.com columnist Rudetsky — will play the Fort Worth venue July 25 at 8 PM, July 26 at 7 PM and July 27 at 7 PM. On Broadway — with conductor, composer, record producer, Grammy and two-time Emmy Award winner McDaniel — will be presented Aug 29-31 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Tickets, priced $35-$50, can be ordered by visiting www.lyricstage.org or by calling (972) 252-2787. Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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