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January 17, 2012

Lindsay Mendez: The rise of a fan favorite, still rising

by Jesse North

lindsay mendez godspell broadway headshotAlthough not yet a marquee name, Lindsay Mendez sits comfortably atop many Broadway fans’ lists of favorite performers. For those unfamiliar with her, that’s all changing thanks to her well-received performance in this season’s revival of Godspell, as well as her endless lineup of cabaret gigs. In her latest concert engagement, Mendez headlines with her jazz partner Marco Paguia January 18 at Joe’s Pub. Before a performance of Godspell (but not after a day of workshop and concert rehearsal), Mendez sat down with Stage Rush to discuss the endless amounts of energy required for Godspell, singing with her Broadway A-list friend (and former roommate) Sierra Boggess at the ASTEP New York City Christmas concert, and whether she sees above-the-title billing in her future.

This show looks like it’s so much fun to perform. What’s been the best moment so far?
I’d say opening night, just because it was such a mammoth task to take on redoing this show. In the beginning of rehearsal, we all thought this could either be really awesome and fun, or it was going to be really bad. It took a while for it to come together. When we opened, the show was fluid and wonderful.

Since your character is called Lindsay, what qualities of Lindsay Mendez are in the character you play in Godspell?
I think the Lindsay in the show has a lot of joy and definitely wants to go her own way. She’s also very materialistic. I don’t think I’m quite as bad as her, in that respect. But I really like playing her because I get to wear really fancy things. I don’t wear anything this nice. There aren’t many things that differ from her and I and it’s been really fun to have the audience get to know who I really am.

Is that difficult to play yourself?
I feel like I always bring a huge part of myself to any role I play. In Everyday Rapture, I played myself as well, in a way. I’m kind of used to playing myself. It’s not as foreign to me.

This is such a vocally heavy show with sustained energy. How is your voice and energy level holding up?
My body is more tired than my voice. The first couple weeks, the cast was saying there’s no way we’re going to be able to do this. We’re on stage the whole time; we sing every song; we never get water; we never get a break. I had to figure out how to manage. When you’re doing a Broadway show, it can start to feel like jail, in a way. All you do is wake up and hope you have enough of a voice to do the show and that your body feels good enough to perform at night. I’m trying to find the balance of having my own life in the daytime, then coming here at night and doing a great job. It’s an ongoing learning process for me.

This production puts the actors very up close and intimate with the audience. During intermission, theatergoers are even allowed to mingle with you on stage. Has that yielded any awkward or uncomfortable moments?
We have our moments where people want more than what we can give them. They ask for more wine; they want to take props from the stage. But most people come up on the stage and say they’ve never been on a Broadway stage before and how cool it is. I love staying out there. I only get about a five-minute break, but we all have the option to leave or stay. I stay every night, because I really enjoy it. I love hearing from people that they’re touched or having a wonderful time. I always need to be reminded of why I’m doing this.

VIDEO: Lindsay Mendez on the Godspell workout and how her Zodiac sign booked her Everyday Rapture

You look fantastic, by the way. How do you stay fit?
The show is a huge factor. It’s so physical that I don’t go to the gym because I’m doing two and a half hours of crazy cardio every night. I just try and eat well. It’s not every show that you get this much exercise in. I’m dripping sweat at the end of every show and it feels great. If I want to go out and eat something bad, I say, “Meh. I’ll burn it off on the trampolines tomorrow. [referring to the “We Beseech Thee” number]

You have a wide musical range, but you’ve become known specifically for jazz and scatting. Where does that come from?
I never studied jazz. I never even went to college. I began buying music and educating myself on it and I ended up buying a lot of jazz. I was really into Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn. I just started hoarding this music. By hearing it, I’d wonder if it was something I could do. I’ve learned to do it and it’s really fun. Getting to scat is not a common thing in musical theater, but I’ve gotten to do it a lot. It’s really great to flex my muscles and see if I can make it work in the context. I don’t ever want it to be masturbatory. It has to fit and be exactly right.

This is only your third Broadway show, but you’re constantly working on readings and concerts, like the ASTEP Christmas concert and your Joe’s Pub show this Wednesday. When you first set out to be a performer in New York, did you know there would be opportunities available to you outside of a Broadway theater?
Not at all. I didn’t even realize that working with new composers and having my own band was a possibility for me. I came here wanting to be on Broadway, like everybody does. It wasn’t until I did Grease that my husband said to me, “If we’re going to be here, let’s see what else is out there for you to fill your time so that you don’t feel like you’re just living to work. This way, when the show closes, you don’t have to start from scratch.” I started meeting composers that I really clicked with. That’s the key—meeting these people who are creating the new work and getting them to write for you. That happened back in the day with Bernadette Peters and Stephen Sondheim. It’s still happening. That thought made me excited about working.

From your ASTEP appearances, it’s clear that you and Sierra Boggess have a strong friendship. What’s your history together?
We met doing a show called Princesses by David Zippel and Matthew Wilder at Goodspeed. I think Sierra got her Equity card doing it. I had gotten mine the show prior. We thought Princesses was going to Broadway. You hear your show is going to Broadway and you get that midtown apartment. We got an apartment at 50 St. and Tenth Avenue and moved in together. And then the show didn’t go to Broadway. I had gotten some other regional job. Sierra was on her last dime; she was struggling so hard. Then she got the Les Miserables tour and she has not stopped working since. We have been so close for so long. Doing that concert with her a couple weeks ago, I just couldn’t believe how much we’ve been through and that we get to come together and do this. I’m just so proud of her. She’s kicking so much butt.

lindsay mendez godspell broadwayWhen you were in Everyday Rapture, you took the role of a backup singer, which would seem like a thankless experience to most actresses. How does that experience sum up for you?
Gosh, Everyday Rapture was the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. I went into that audition three weeks after Grease closed. I really felt like I would never work again; that’s what you think when your first show closes. I’ve always thought Sherie Rene Scott was the most incredible performer. Knowing that Michael Mayer was directing and Tom Kitt was doing the music and Dick Scanlan was writing, I was like, these people are legends. To get the opportunity to be in a four-person show of theirs was unheard of. So I went in and auditioned. They immediately said, “You’re who we want.” They found Betsy Wolfe and we were in the final callbacks together. We read with Sherie and then she asked us what our astrological signs are. [laughs] Because that’s what she does. And we just clicked immediately. They’re like sisters to me. We’ve been through so much together, what with doing the show and transferring it to Broadway. Sherie and that experience really changed my life. I would do that show again in a heartbeat; tomorrow or 10 years from now. Sherie never made us feel like backup singers. If she had it her way, she would be behind us. She will tell anybody and everybody, “The reason I hired Betsy and Lindsay is because I know they’re going to be huge stars and I want everyone to know that I picked them.” I spent two nights with them this week, in fact.

You’ve gained quite a following from playing supporting characters. Are you creatively fulfilled by the types of roles you’ve played?
Grease
was my Broadway debut. I had fun playing that character, even though I’ve played it many times before. Everyday Rapture was something different. The Marvelous  Wonderettes [off-Broadway] was a big challenge, because it’s a hard show where you’re on stage the whole time. I’d say Godspell has been the biggest challenge—that I have to live up to the work of Stephen Schwartz. I think this is the most exposed I’ve ever felt in a show. I think it’s been really good for me. I’m excited to see what happens next. I never thought I’d get this many opportunities in my career. I’m kind of a weird type and I’ve managed to make a space and I’m beyond grateful.

Do you see yourself as a leading actress?
Yes. I definitely see myself as a character actress, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t lead a show. What excites me about a lot of the new work I’m doing is that women don’t have to be a size zero and blonde to lead a show anymore. People are writing with certain actors in mind, knowing that they’re special and unique. I think audiences respond to people who are reachable. I’m this Mexican girl from California. I can relate to a lot of audiences that come. I believe I could lead a show. Will I ever get to? I don’t know. For now, I enjoy what I do. I enjoy a side character too. You get your two songs, a couple scenes, funny lines, then you’re backstage playing Uno. That’s good too; I’ll take either one.

Do you think Lindsay Mendez is on track to headlining her own show, Rushers? What has been your favorite performance of hers so far? Are you as touched by her close bond with Sierra Boggess as I am? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and tune into this week’s episode of Stage Rush TV for more interview footage with Mendez!

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