If you don’t follow Broadway closely, you might not have heard the name Lindsay Mendez until she stepped on stage to receive her Tony Award at Sunday’s ceremony. As she gave her heartwarming speech, accepting the award for Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Carrie Pipperidge, a late-1800s millworker in New England, tears undoubtedly came to the eyes of many Latinx theater fans as she described her early life in New York City and why she is proud “to be a part of a community that celebrates diversity and individuality” after ignoring advice to whitewash her last name.
But the Mexican-American actress from California (who is also of Russian Jewish descent) isn’t a total newcomer. In fact, she has had such eponymous roles as Elphaba in “Wicked” and Jan in “Grease.” But with her Tony Award fresh in her hands, Lindsay Mendez has officially stepped into the spotlight as only a few Latinx theater actors have before. Want to get to know her? From her upbringing in Orange Country to her past work on the Great White Way, here are 20 things that you should know about Tony Award-winning actress Lindsay Mendez.
1. She was advised to whitewash her last name when she moved to New York.
“When I moved to New York, I was told to change my last name from Mendez to Matthews or I wouldn’t work,” she said during her acceptance speech on Sunday night. “And I just want to say how proud I am to be a part of a community that celebrates diversity and individuality.”
2. She is only the 6th Latina in Tony Awards history to win an award.
Previous Latina Tony winners include Rita Moreno (Featured Actress in a Play for “The Ritz” in 1975), Chita Rivera (Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018), Priscilla Lopez (Featured Actress in a Musical for “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine” in 1980), Sara Ramirez (Featured Actress in a Musical for “Spamalot” in 2005), and Karen Olivo (Featured Actress in a Musical for “West Side Story” in 2009).
3. She is of Mexican descent and was born in California.
Although she is originally from Norwalk, California, she is actually of Mexican and Russian Jewish descent.
4. She received news of her nomination while at home in her pajamas.
“I was at home in bed in my pajamas,” she said in an interview with NBC Latino. “Then so many people called to tell me the news that my phone basically died. I had been thinking that maybe it (a nomination) could happen, but I didn’t want to jinx it.”
5. She has appeared in “Wicked,” “Grease,” and “Godspell” before her Tony Award-winning role in “Carousel.”
According to Internet Broadway Database, her previous roles include Elphaba in “Wicked,” Jan in “Grease,” Dance Captain in “Everyday Rapture,” as part of the ensemble cast in “Godspell,” Laura in “Significant Other,” and finally Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel.”
6. She encouraged other performers to be their true selves.
“To all of you artists out there, just be your true self and the world will take note!” she said during her speech.
7. She is a vlogger for Broadway.com.
You can watch her videos here.
8. Lindsay Mendez actually considered changing her name to Lindsay Matthews.
“I was going to change [my name] to Lindsay Matthews, this is true,” she said backstage at the Tony Awards. “At that time, when I moved here, there weren’t that many Latina actresses. I thought that my grandparents would be so devastated. They worked so hard to get me here. I thought, either they’re going to like what I’m doing or what I’m not.”
9. She’s very proud of being a Mexican woman playing in a Broadway show set in New England.
“When I came here, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on Broadway. I just knew I had to stay true to myself,” she told NBC News. “Now here I am, a Mexican woman playing a role in ‘Carousel,’ set in New England, with a hugely diverse cast. That is exciting to me. Just because I am Latina doesn’t mean I can only play one character.”
10. She never thought she would have to hone a Maine accent.
“Just because you’re a minority, doesn’t mean you only have to play roles that are set to be a minority,” she said during the Tony Awards backstage press conference. “I love getting to play this crazy Maine girl in New England — an accent I’d never thought I’d have to hone.”
11. She has big plans for her future career on Broadway.
During the Tony Awards press conference, she admitted that her dream roles are “Flora, the Red Menace” or Winifred in “Once Upon a Mattress.”
12. She never studied jazz, despite being known for it in her cabaret work.
“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,” she said in an interview with Stage Rush. “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.”
13. She’s proud to be part of such a diverse cast that makes late-1800s Maine look like America today.
“I probably feel a little bit more strongly about that because I happen to be Mexican,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I think that people want to come and see that all types of people are represented in theater. I think it would be irresponsible to not do that. I heard a statistic yesterday that only 2% of Actors’ Equity members who are working are Latino, and that just hit me so hard. When shows like ‘In the Heights’ or ‘Evita’ or ‘West Side Story’ aren’t running, Hispanic people aren’t getting that much of a chance.”
14. Before her Tony Award, she was already a winner.
Before the Tony Awards this Sunday, Mendez already won a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award for her role as Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel.”
15. She started acting at a very young age.
“My sister did a production of ‘Annie,’ and I remember — I think I was 3 or 4 years old — I just screamed to my mom that I wanted to do that,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “So my mom put me in dance class pretty early on, 4 or 5 years old. And I started studying voice when I was 6. I pretty much always just wanted to do this.”
16. She co-founded Actor Therapy in 2012.
This organization, which is a training and mentorship program that she co-founded with Rso, has been “over the moon” about Mendez’s success.
17. You might see her in a film soon.
Although Lindsay Mendez has appeared in TV’s “Smash” in the past (playing herself in 2013 episode “The Transfer”), she is considering TV or a film in her future. “I’m only interested in things that scare the hell out of me, that feel like a huge challenge. So maybe TV or a film,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
18. She’s used to relating to the roles she plays.
In “Godspell,” she played a character named Lindsay too and told Stage Rush that “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.” But even before then, she admits that it’s not strange to her. “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.”
19. She met her husband because of “Wicked”… sort of.
“After [playing Elphaba in] “Wicked” [on Broadway] I went out to Kansas City [where her husband Philip Wakefield lived] for the world premiere of this new musical by Nick Blaemire called “A Little More Alive” at Kansas City Rep,” she told Playbill.com. “On my last week there I really wanted to go see jazz music, so I found this jazz club called The Green Lady online, and since I had just played the green lady [in “Wicked”] it felt like the right place to go. Philip was playing the drums there.” The two married in May 2016.
20. She feels lucky that other Latinos get to see her on stage and feel inspired.
“Sometimes Latin people come and see me at the stage door, and say they are happy to see someone like them on stage,” she said to NBC News. “So I feel lucky to be part of this theatrical community — and to be honored and accepted here in this way.”
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