Meet a Mom: Mandy Gonzalez, Fearless - Greater Lansing Area Moms

This week we are beyond excited to share Mandy Gonzalez as the GLAMoms Meet a mom this week!  Mandy, her husband and 11-year-old daughter live just outside of New York City and this week, Mandy was in town performing at Wharton Center.  

While performing at Wharton Center, local musicians joined her on stage.  Hank Horton on bass and Steve Wulff joined by Mandy’s music director, Dan Lipton.  Also, Sheri (Tulloch) Petersen and her choir at Grand Ledge High School joined Mandy onstage for the finale.  

In addition to performing at Wharton Center, Mandy taught a masterclass at Grand Ledge High School and took in a lot of what Greater Lansing has to offer!  

We had the opportunity to chat with Mandy and she is lovely. Learn more about this VERY busy mom who is finding her way in navigating life with middle-schooler – we can relate – as she continues to grow her #fearlesssquad and promotes the importance of community wherever she goes.  And so much more!

Welcome to Greater Lansing Area Moms, Mandy!  We are looking forward to coffee and a treat from Flour Child Bakery this week! 

How old is your daughter?  

She is 11 years old.

Middle school…. How is it going?

She started middle school this year and is walking by herself.  In grade school she walked to school with us and now she is walking on her own with friends.  I leave her at the door and say “bye”.  This part is weird.  

Where do you live?

We live in New Jersey just outside of New York City in a town called South Orange. You can take the train right into Penn Station.  It is a great community and has schools for my daughter.  There are a lot of artists who live out here. 

Over Labor Day Weekend, I took her and two of her best friends to Six Flags. She loves roller coasters and I did not want her to go on them by herself so this time we took some friends and they all like roller coasters.   “I will take the pictures!“  Now that I am older, I just get dizzy now and cannot handle it anymore.  

What is Fearless based upon?  

In 2017, it started as a social movement.   I had many young people writing to me telling me feelings of loneliness and feeling like they did not belong.  One day, I put out on social media, if you feel like you don’t belong, you can be part of my #fearlesssquad. I had no idea it would reach thousands of people.  

Then I had to figure out what this movement was.  So I came up with our squad rules.Anybody can be part of the Fearless Squad.

Our slogan is: 
I held your hand in mine and together we changed the world.
We help each other when we fall.  
We embrace our differences.  
We look for the good.  
We dream big.  
And together, we are fearless.

When I was creating my album, I asked my dear friend Lin-Manuel Miranda (who knew about the Fearless Squad) if he would write a song for the Fearless Squad.

He asked me what fearless meant to me and I told him a story about my parents and how they met as penpals.  My father was drafted at 19 and served during the Vietnam War. My mom wanted to join the Peace Corp at 17 and her parents said absolutely not.  She did the next best thing; she handed her address to someone who was going to Boot Camp in case soldiers needed someone to write to.   

The soldier happened to be my father.   They corresponded throughout my father’s service.  He did not have much when he left the Army but he had a car, an address and a sense of direction.  When she opened her door her life took a whole new direction.  They have been married now for 52 years.  

When I told that story to Lin, he wrote the song Fearless.  

Fearless has been a word that has just stuck with me.   I think when I first created the Fearless Squad, I thought I would be the one that would need it the least, and I was the one that ended up needing it the most.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 and I think that having that squad and sense of fearlessness allowed me to make it through that experience and not feel alone.  I am happy to say I am almost four years cancer free.

The word fearless continues to attach itself to me and has evolved for me in so many different ways.  

There is a Fearless book series?

There are three books.   I have been writing young adult novels for a long time.  

I wrote and pitched a book about 11 year old Monica Garcia who travels to NYC to star in the new Broadway show as the understudy.  I did not know an understudy was a thing until I had that job.  She finds her fearless squad.  There is also a ghost story in it.  The story travels all along Manhattan and really is a Broadway adventure novel.  

I started to write these books because when I was young and went to the library I would look for books and characters that looked like me and I did not have a lot of luck finding them.  And I thought, I am going to create it myself.  And so I did.  A lot of the characters are inspired by people in my life that maybe don’t always look like you may think people look like on Broadway – but actually do.

We all have our stories – everyone on Broadway has a story to tell. 

How do you find talent locally to join in your performances? 

I reach out.  One of my friends works in the Mid-Michigan area and I wrote to him and asked if he knew anyone that would be interested in a masterclass for kids to come and sing with me.  Eventually a lot of emails and phone calls led me to Sheri Peterson at Grand Ledge High School.  She said her kids would do it and the Grand Ledge High School Choir is performing with me.   

I am so excited. It’s very important to me to spotlight the community wherever I go. 

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to do this my whole life.   

I spent a lot of time with my grandma growing up.  She loved musicals, particularly old movie musicals and I fell in love with the genre through her.   The fever for this started very young.  

Everyone needs someone in their life to say “hey, you have something special about you…”  and she was the person who did that for me.  Even now singing certain songs I feel she is with me in a lot of ways. 

Who was your mentor in the industry growing up?  

I have a lot of different teachers that taught me a lot of different things and it was not until I was about 15 years old when I went to a camp in Florida.  We auditioned to be there and I felt very challenged.  

Gregory Hines taught a tap class at this camp.  I am not the best tapper in the world… like, at all.  Yet, I really wanted to get into his class.   

I worked very hard and got into his class.  At the end of his classes, he does this challenge circle and you have to go to the middle of the circle.  It is kind of like when you dance at a club.  I had not gone in and he announced there was time for one more, and I had not gone in. 

I jumped in and then thought, what am I going to do now? The other campers knew I was not a strong tapper and they started chanting, “Mandy sing!” And I did.  

Following, he lifted me in the air, called me “the voice” and honestly, that moment changed my life. Someone I considered a hero gave me validation for doing what I loved.  

He was not a mentor in a way I was able to ask questions but that moment in my life served as a before and after moment.   I went into full “I want to do this!” drive and went for it. 

One piece of advice for someone starting in this business?

My mom shares a quote by Pablo Neruda, “Travel where there is no trail, the path is made by walking.”   

When you just start your journey and put one foot in front of the other, your path will open up to you.  It may not be exactly what you think it is, but it will lead you to where you need to go. 

It is a journey and that is why I like to go, wherever I travel, to meet with young people.  I get to go to Grand Ledge High School when I am in town and do a masterclass and then to the university, so people know that a life in the arts is possible.  It may not look exactly how you think it is going to look when you start, but wherever the journey is going to take you, it is possible.  

Would you share more about the theatre team?

I love that with theatre it takes a whole team to make it happen.  No one goes on stage in a Broadway show and it is just them. There is a whole team behind you helping it happen.  Lighting, stage management, wardrobe. The backstage life is just as interesting as what is happening on stage.  

There are so many ways that you can be creative in this industry.  When I was young, I did not know all that existed.   Producing, Film and TV, Marketing and creating and sharing Social Media content. Management, Stage Management and Set Design, Writing…the list goes on and on.

It is important for me to be the one to let people know there is so much out there.  

Few fast questions to get to know you better 🙂

Favorite concert of all time?  Might have just happened.  Bruce Springsteen.  I just saw him in New Jersey. He was just so electric and the E Street Band was on fire.  And there is definitely some Springsteen in my show. 

Most memorable place to perform?  A concert in Korea. I had never been there and that was a new, cool experience. 

Dream vacation?   Always the beach.  Tortola – the British Virgin Islands and I have not been there since we got married.

Text or call?  Text, it is quicker. I will have a conversation and I will be very excited and texting just makes it less of an interruption.  

Coffee or tea?  Coffee.  All day, everyday.  

First time to the Greater Lansing area?

Yes, this is my first time. I am very excited to go to the Flour Child Bakery.  I heard about it and now I am obsessed.  

I love coffee and baked goods and to find a bakery everywhere I go.  I am always looking for a good bakery.  And they come highly recommended.   

Back to Fearless this week – what should those who are coming to see you perform at Wharton expect?  

Just a little bit of a Broadway night and expect to have a great time and listen to some great music. Laugh, cry, hear some stories.  Just come out and have a great time.

How long is Fearless?

About 70 minutes with an intermission, 

What age group would enjoy Fearless?

Everyone: 8 – 800 is really great.  Below 8 may be rough to sit but everyone knows their kid and if they think they can sit, they will enjoy it.

This is amazing!  Mandy, thank you!  Your story is incredible and we appreciate you sharing your #fearlesssquad journey with Greater Lansing Area Moms. We look forward to seeing you perform and hope you enjoy your visit to Greater Lansing!   We also hope you have a great school year with your new middle schooler!   

If you would like to learn more about Mandy click on the album cover and book cover below.  Also find Mandy on Instagram – @mandy.gonzalez and her website, mandygonzalez.com

And definitely, join my #fearlesssquad

A special and heartfelt thank you to Wharton Center for making the connection between GLAMoms and Mandy!   We are so very grateful the opportunity and love sharing what we learn with you!

Images were provided by Mandy Gonzalez, Wharton Center and Sheri Petersen from Grand Ledge High School Choir. 

Wharton Center Press Release announcing Mandy Gonzalez and her Fearless performance –  An accomplished actress, author, and performer, Mandy Gonzalez starred on Broadway as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, and had her breakout role as Nina in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s debut hit, In The Heights, earning a Drama Desk Award for Best Ensemble. She later went on to star as Elphaba in WICKED and Aida on Broadway and has appeared in many film and TV series including the romantic drama film Across the Universe by Julie Taymor; the romantic drama film After; the crime thriller Man on a Ledge; the TV series Quantico, Madam Secretary, and the HULU series Only Murders in the Building. She also performs with some of the greatest symphonies around the world.

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