Tony Award winner shares wisdom, tunes with Williamsport crowd

Tony Award winner shares wisdom, tunes with local crowd

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Tony Award winning singer, actress Lindsay Mendez gives instructions during the Master Class at the Community Theatre League Saturday.

Tony Award-winning Broadway star Lindsay Mendez wowed residents of the Susquehanna Valley and beyond at the Community Theatre League Saturday.

Mendez graced the mainstage for the CTL’s third “Evening with a Star” event, their signature annual fundraising event that brings Tony-nominated performers to Williamsport. “What CTL is doing with this series … is a tremendous opportunity for us folks in the region to get a taste of Broadway without having to drive four hours,” Paul Novack, of Selinsgrove, who has been excited for this show for months, said.

Mendez and her accompanist, Marco Paguia, took the packed crowd on a musical coming of age story of sorts through the earliest years of Mendez’s career.

“I think that theatre is so important for all of us, but particularly shepherding young people – I know I sure as heck would have been lost without it,” Mendez said, segueing seamlessly into what was her first ever audition song, “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long.”

Mendez mixed impeccable vocals with witty banter and memories between numbers that led smoothly into the next and kept the crowd applauding and laughing. Speaking of her first voice teacher’s suggestions of lighthearted songs, “I was like ‘no.’ What I need is a torch number, something that really gets out all my six-year-old angst and anger,” said Mendez. Mendez’s spirit and stage presence were second to none, as she transitioned anecdotes into song. Sometimes, these transitions were only signified by Paguia coming in on piano.

Notably, “Nothing” from “A Chorus Line,” a song that is as much conversation as it is singing, that details Mr. Karp, an expectant theatre teacher who tries to get his student, Morales, to improvise she’s on a bobsled. The song is full of funny moments, most at the expense of Karp and Morales’ inability to improvise.

Mendez spoke of her love of New York City, where she co-founded and runs Actor Therapy, a training and mentorship program with composer Ryan Scott Oliver.

“One of my favorite things about living in New York is all of the best artists come there to work,” Mendez said. A common theme that ran throughout her performance was her deep respect for not only her artistic peers but the greats that came before her.

Mendez performed songs from the classic television shows, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “I Love Lucy,” which she cites as two of her favorite shows and strongest inspirations growing up. “I feel like (Mr. Rogers) taught me so much about being kind to others and a good humanitarian,” said Mendez, “and how to pick the right cardigan when you go home.” Mendez kept the crowd laughing throughout the evening.

She performed “It’s You I Like” from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” submerging the audience in smooth, soulful nostalgia, with Paguia’s lofty piano permeating the theatre. Mendez’s musical style skillfully fluctuated between heartfelt ballads, poppy showtunes – notably Ethel’s song from the “I Love Lucy” episode, “The Operetta” – and jazzy scatting.

Mendez paid homage to her late friend and composer Michael Friedman, who passed in September 2017. “He wrote a lot of really wonderful music,” Mendez said, launching elegiacally into “Second Nature.”

She told the crowd about her time in the recent “magical” Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” for which she won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, the Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award. “I never dreamed as a little Mexican girl growing up in California that I would get to be in a Rodgers & Hammerstein show, said Mendez, before putting on her believable Maine dialect for “Mr. Snow.”

Though much of her performances feature old-time material, Mendez enjoys throwing a newer song into the mix. Amazingly for those in attendance, the song, written by Tim Rosser and Charlie Sohne for Mendez, was brand-new, and those at the CTL were some of the first to hear it, said Mendez.

“Besides this whole musical theatre thing, I have a super deep love for jazz music,” Mendez said. She and Paguia joined a jazz band together about seven years ago, and have been transforming modern songs into jazz standard grooves, evidenced by their genuine delivery of “Sitting in the Middle” by Raul Midon, a fast-chorused, upbeat song.

Mendez closed the night with “Stroke by Stroke,” a number written by Actor Therapy co-founder Ryan Scott Oliver. Mendez chose this song because its message aligns with her own passions for teaching and mentoring, said Mendez. And after thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Mendez and Paguia returned for an encore before everyone filtered upstairs for the VIP Meet and Greet, their Mendez memorabilia and smiles abounding.

Speaking on how she feels about bringing the substantial size of Broadway to our small city, “It feels incredible. I really love getting to bring theatre and what’s going on in New York to towns like this, especially towns that support the arts,” said Mendez.