ON YOUR FEET! will strut onto Broadway at the Marquis Theatre, with preview performances beginning October 5th, 2015. Anxiously waiting in the wings ready to take his first step upon that stage is dancer Carlos E. Gonzalez. Born and raised in Cuba, his mother won the VISA lottery when Gonzalez was 11 years old. She applied for the lottery as she was hoping for a better future for her son. The family left their native Cuba and was transported to Lansing, MI in the middle of a cold, harsh snowstorm. It was the first time they had ever seen snow.
They eventually relocated to Elizabeth, NJ which was warmer and had a larger Latino population. Gonzalez took up drama at the suggestion of a high school teacher so he could work on his English. He got the acting bug during those early years so when it came time for college he turned down a full scholarship to go to architectural school. He decided instead to attend Montclair State University where he received a BFA in Acting with a Minor in Dance.
Since graduating, Gonzalez performed on a cruise ship, in summer stock shows, and in a non-union tour of IN THE HEIGHTS. Appearing in ON YOUR FEET! not only marks his first professional union job, but also his Broadway debut.
I sat down with the charismatic Gonzalez to discuss his journey with the show.
First off, congratulations on your Broadway debut. What were you doing before ON YOUR FEET! came into your life?
“Thank you, Bob. I was actually going through a transition into photography. So many of the non-union jobs didn’t pay a lot and I still had college debt to pay off. Using my camera sparked a new passion for me, so I invested in equipment, a studio in Brooklyn and a website.”
That’s ambitious. How did it go?
“I decided to take a year off from performing to focus on it. I even let go of my agent at the time. By having so many friends in the business I was able to make money by doing headshots. It was short-lived though as one day the associate director of ON YOUR FEET! (who I’d met in the past) gave me a call. He said I should audition for this new musical about the life of Gloria Estefan that was going to premiere in Chicago before opening on Broadway. I told him that the show sounded perfect for me but I was just getting settled into this new phase of my life. Well, he coaxed me into going, and I thought to myself this would be the last time I’d audition for a while.”
And the rest, as they say, is history!
“Yes, I guess you could say that. I imagined that the audition was going to be the typical Broadway call where you had to show off major technique and do tricks. I arrived at the audition wearing the customary black dance clothes and character shoes that most guys wear nowadays. But when they taught the first step and had a percussionist in the room playing an Afro-Caribbean beat, I thought to myself, WOW, this is Cuba. I immediately took of my shirt and character shoes, and slipped into some short white pants to attack these authentic steps that I knew since childhood.”
That’s terrific. Kind of like “the barefoot boy from Cuba” rocking it out!
“It was pretty incredible. I felt so at home and it was very liberating for me. Immediately after the audition the choreographer, Sergio Trujillo, asked me if I would like to help with the pre-production! Since it’s such an authentic style and no one else on the creative team had ever been to Cuba, I was totally excited to be a part of it, and said yes!”
So you’re getting your first Broadway show and also getting to help create it? How cool is that?
“I loved being in the room for pre-production. I’ve learned so much form Sergio and his associate choreographers, Maria Torres and Marcos Santana. They really involved me in the process to keep the work authentic. There are even some steps that my grandfather did in the show! Sergio was so intent on not only getting the steps correct, but also the energy and passion behind them. He and I even went to Cuba for a week to watch and participate in rehearsals with afro-Cuban street performers.”
How did you feel when the show opened in Chicago?
“Chicago still feels like a dream to me. It was so special to me for so many reasons. My Mom and sister came to the show and were so happy to see me up there doing what l loved. It was also very emotional for her to see the scene where Emilio says goodbye to his grandparents as he leaves Cuba at age 11. The same age I left. So much of the show mirrored our life in Cuba that I felt I came full circle.”
What a special moment. I bet you were excited to meet Gloria Estefan as well.
“In Cuba, Gloria Estefan is known as the Cuban that made the American dream. She’s a goddess to many people there. I first met her during a pre-production rehearsal in New York. She walked into the room while we were all dancing and I just shut down. It was like, oh my God, she’s here! She introduced herself and walked around the room and gave each one of us a kiss. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
After that we were going to show her one of the numbers but the CD player wasn’t working properly. Gloria just said, well since I’m here would you like me to sing it? I remember that moment like it was yesterday as me and my partner started to cry as we were dancing. Here was Gloria Estefan singing live as we danced to her beautiful rendition of ‘Mi Tierra.’ It was truly an emotional experience for me.”
How fitting for you considering “Mi Tierra” translates as “My Homeland!”
“Exactly! Every step of the process has been like that. After I met Emilio I immediately felt that these two characters that I’d heard about all of my life were exactly as they had been described and even more. They are such wonderful, humble and generous people.”
So what are you looking forward to on opening night?
“I’m so excited to share my Broadway debut with my family, friends, classmates, teachers and mentors who all helped me on this journey. Since a lot of the work I’ve done in the past was on the road many of them didn’t get the chance to see me perform. Most of my relatives are now living in New Jersey so I told them it’s only a 15-minute ride to come and see me.”
Thank you, Carlos. I’m sure your family will be very proud that you’re bringing the love of your homeland to Broadway.
To learn more about Carlos E. Gonzalez, visit his website at www.carlosegonzalez.com
ON YOUR FEET! features some of the most iconic songs of the past quarter century, including “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Conga,” “Get on Your Feet,” “Don’t Want to Lose You,” “1-2-3,” and “Coming Out of the Dark,” and the Broadway musical boasts a creative team to match its incomparable song list. Two-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots) directs, with choreography by Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys) and an original book by Academy Award® winner Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman). Previews begin 10/05/15, Opening 11/05/15. Tickets at Ticketmaster.
About the Author
Bob Rizzo began The Dance Coach as a valuable resource for aspiring dancers, teachers and choreographers looking for professional feedback on technique, performance and choreography. And for those who aspire to a career in dance, The Dance Coach is a trusted advisor offering career coaching and advice based on more than 30 years of professional experience in the dance world! The Dance Coach Blog focuses on dance related topics and people working in the entertainment industry. It features a mix of interviews, tips for dancers, performance reviews, and training opportunities. Read Bob Rizzo’s full bio here.