I had a chance to sit down with Alexandria Suaréz, a talented 16 year old who is currently starring as Little Gloria Estefan in On Your Feet! The Musical.
Well, On Your Feet was basically just an audition and I had gone on a few Broadway auditions so I was like, okay, just going to take it in stride. If I do get it, it would be ideal because I’d be representing a culture that I have grown up with so ingrained in my head.
You knew a lot of Gloria’s music?
Yes. An abundance of her music. Yup.
What other shows did you audition for?
Well, I actually can’t remember at the moment. I always respected theater but I have never been a theater geek, so now is when I am being introduced to all of the Broadway terms and this and that and it’s cool. It’s cool because I come from the TV realm. I am so accustomed to TV and booths and recording so it’s cool to be introduced to that.
Yes, that’s cool. And you’re now on Broadway playing Gloria Estefan. What song did you perform for your audition?
Well, we had to prepare an English and a Spanish song, so of course I went with “Part Of Your World” for the English one. But I first sang the Spanish song. It’s actually one of Gloria’s songs called “Tu Fotografia,” which is “Your Photograph,” and it’s about her father and it’s very sentimental. As you know, her father had multiple sclerosis and he died. So it was a very heartfelt song and after I sang it, Jerry Mitchell, our wonderful director, didn’t make me sing the second song. I just went to the workshop and I am just so grateful for him. He sees something in everyone that, whether or not they see it in themselves, it just works.
Did you and Ana [Villafañe, who plays adult Gloria] have to take lessons to talk like Gloria —
I’ve adapted, even subconsciously, some sounds that I have kept as the show progresses and they feel very comfortable for me to do anyway and as my character evolves people tell me sound like her which I find funny yet wonderful, because not many people knew how she sounded at the age I represent.
Did you practice words together to make sure you say it the same way?
No. We warm up together. We don’t really practice enunciating certain words. People do tell me I sound like her [Gloria] when she was younger, because there are people who knew her years ago, and really that’s an honor because that’s my goal. So it’s cool.
You are representing a really cool person in general. Why do you think it’s important for a Broadway show to be representing Gloria’s story?
It’s good. It’s spontaneous. I think it’s vital, because well, of course, everyone’s story should be heard but she is part of something so much bigger than herself. She is part of the American dream. I know you hear this a lot in regards to the show, “Cuban culture” and “American dream,” but Cuban culture is something that has not been represented a lot in the past decades, so it’s always cool to introduce Cuban music. And it’s nice so that people know you have this culture, you have Cubans. It’s just very important for people to be exposed to every culture and our job, which doesn’t feel like a job at all —
It looks like you guys are having a party on stage.
It is. It’s a Party con “p-a-y”. That’s a term that we always utilize. It’s a party with pay. You get paid to party.
Seriously, you guys do party. When you come down the aisle for the Conga — you are not in that scene — but when they come down the aisle, that looks like so much fun.
Yes. They are having a blast.
What do you do when you are not on stage? You have a lot of downtime.
Yes. It’s good. I primarily do schoolwork. I like meditating, but I can’t really. I am a Gemini, so I am very fickle — I have twins in my personality. I am very true to my sign and a zodiac freak. So I am all over the place sometimes. So I like to try meditating. I like to try adult coloring. The people in wardrobe, I just love them so much. I just hang out with them. I’m friends with the kids. Sometimes we talk on the bean bags, we do whatever.
How do you balance being in school and the show at the same time?
Well, I think it’s because you really have to want it.
Do you attend a real school?
I read that you took the SATs when you were in seventh grade.
Yes. It was a program that we did. You just get exposed to real world things and you do a PowerPoint project on something that’s a controversial topic and I did it on embryonic cells. So school has always been very vital to me. You really have to want both things. So if you want it, you will find the time. Like I strategize during the day before the show. If there is something I feel I can do for the next week, I will do it during the show.
What’s your favorite scene that you are in?
I mean, I like each one in a different way because “Wrapped” is a reflection of the “Tradición” one, where I am in a blue dress. In “Wrapped” you are in all white, but it’s a little more sentimental so I like that aspect of it.”Tradición” is more about rejoicing and happy. And then the Megamix is just Megamix. It’s just red dress, sparkles, fun — so I like it in different ways.
What’s your favorite part of the show to watch or listen to that you are not in?
Oh my God. I just — okay. So among the rituals that we have every show, “Party Time” is like — I can’t watch opening because I am on a machine waiting to come up during opening, but I do dance to opening. I have my own ritual. But “Party Time” I watch from the balcony or I am backstage and I am just goofing off with the musicians and then I know the exact — like when it end or this happens or the encore and I am giving signs to them.
Your band is onstage, and you’re on guitar. What’s that like?
For most of my stage time I don’t see the band, but when I first come up I was — it’s just really funny because they are always obviously focused on the music, but they have their little inside jokes. They must be internally laughing because I won’t joke around with them at that moment. It’s hilarious.
You mentioned that you do TV. I know you voiced the Backpack for Dora the Explorer. Ellen and Tom Hanks recently said that it’s very hard to be a voice actor. Do you agree with that? Is it harder or easier to do voice acting?
I think it depends on the person. Obviously taking care of your voice is vital, like with everything else.
Ellen was saying she always has to be out of breath, and Tom Hanks was saying he always has to hold his breath and stand straight.
Yes. Posture is more important than people think. I mean, it’s good. It’s cool. Sometimes you find gold in the first take and sometimes you don’t. It’s just very different because Broadway is like, okay, well that was your take and it’s fun. One of our cast members says you are shot out of a cannon in “Tradición.” You are shot out of a cannon, and in the booth you are really not, but it still has its magic. It’s great.
Is there any place that Dora goes that you really want to go?
Like everywhere. Everywhere. We had this episode years ago — it was for the winter and they were on ice skates and someone was like, oh, that reminds me of going to Bryant Park and ice skating. In real-life translation: I want to ice skate like her.
What is it like to work with Ana? I know you have sleepovers, but what’s your favorite part about working with her?
She is a gem. She is good. She is a great person. One of the first things that come to mind is that we share the same sign. A lot of cast members are Geminis. What else? She is just very considerate. She is very headstrong in her work on her craft, but she knows how to have fun. She is awesome, she is very approachable, and she is hilarious.
Have you ever had a mess up when you switch places in the show?
No. We never messed up the switch.
Okay. That’s good.
It’s hilarious. In the basin there is a hole in the back, so when I am there for the rest of “Tradición,” it’s hilarious because I am just saying hi to all the panel people and the crew and just making funny faces. There are dancers just coming back and saying things to me and it’s just hilarious. In Spanish you enunciate a lot of things differently, so a lot of things are funnier and in English a lot of things are funnier, but there are some sayings that they say to me in Spanish that are just hilarious and I know all of like the riffs and this and the guitar does this, the percussion does this, the bass does this. So I am basically dancing with my hands. The other day we performed without a set, so that was great.
How did that happen? What was it like?
Well, you know, automation, and the floor set wasn’t there that day. Everything and everyone has their off day, and yes, it was just really a testament to “okay, do you have your stuff together.” You just come together and you just finish it.
So you just didn’t have the sets, but you still had the props? Like the fountain?
We didn’t have anything. It was refreshing sort of in an odd way because like an awards ceremony months ago, we didn’t have the basin. We didn’t bring it in from the theater so we had sheets, so we did that type of switch and it was hilarious. It was so fun.
Everyone comes together. Even the crew — you would think the crew has less to do. No. They are working to rebuild that, but it’s good. Everyone worked really hard that day. It was fun. You know, it’s something different. Keeps you “on your feet.” Ha, ha.
How do you keep your body and your voice in shape to do eight shows a week? You really perform in all eight, right?
Well, I used to do all eight, but now Eddie and I, the other little boy, now we do six and our previous understudies do two. So that gives us a little more rest. I am not going to have something contagious where I am hey, I am going to shake your hand. No. But if you think something is wrong, if you think of something positive, that’s going to set and mold your day. Just keeping my mind in check. The voice, obviously warm-ups. I don’t have the longest track in the show which is already great, but when I feel like I have talked a good bit or my voice could use a little rest, I try to shut down a little bit. With dancing, you also have to warm up. A lot of the dancers do boxing. I really like yoga. I stretch every day. I try to get more flexible, but yes, also just psychologically being okay, I got this done today, I got this, da, da, da, everything goes together.
You said you do schoolwork in your downtime. Did you ever get distracted in the middle of doing some schoolwork and you have to go on stage?
I have had moments like that. Not that it overlaps with my stage time, but I get caught up. I am really productive in school but whoa, it’s already this point in the showand I am going to start going down in a few minutes.
Does someone come to remind you?
No. I do my cues and it’s fun.
You got to meet Gloria, right? What was that like, the first time you met her and you found out you were going to play her?
She is really maternal. Her and Emilio were like parents. They were really nice. They are very, very genuine and very open. What’s awesome is that they didn’t want the story to be sugar-coated. They said it’s going to be raw. I mean, you have your cuts here and there, but they are very hands on, thankfully. It’s a very genuine story because mostly because they were there throughout the process, and also Alex Dinelaris, our writer, is amazing. He worked hand-in-hand with them, and I think they meshed really well.
There are a few jukebox musicals out now. Do you think more shows should do something like that, or do you think this is good, three is enough on Broadway?
I believe whatever is meant for a show, don’t force certain direction. If the show is getting a certain type of feedback or if it’s formatted in a certain way, let it be because you need a different show in the community. You can’t have a lot of jukebox musicals, you can’t have a lot of plays. I mean, you can, but you just need something fresh and people want to see something different.
A lot of shows closed this year after the Tony Awards because they didn’t get nominated or receive enough publicity and recognition. How does that make you feel that your show is still open and running?
It makes us kiss the ground of the Marquis Theater. We got nominated for choreography and it’s okay. Because–
–you guys are still open.
Yes. We believe in our show. And as long as the audience believes in our show, that’s also validation. So Tony Awards — it’s like, it’s great but that’s not the only validation.
Some people think that’s the only thing.
Of course, and that’s what gets you scared because people are “oh my God, you didn’t get Tonys. Hello, people are not going to see it.”But if it’s a good story and people really start communicating to their friends, “oh my God, see this story, see this story,” then it’s going to do well.
What was it like for you to go to the Tonys and be on that stage?
It was great. It was awesome. It was surreal. It didn’t hit me until like two days after actually, because it just felt so normal. Not like I didn’t appreciate it, but it felt so normal because I was with the people that I am so familiar with, and you are performing live so it’s the same thing. It’s just for a new crowd.
Did you get to meet anyone cool backstage or while you were there?
Unfortunately, no, but it’s fine. The Beacon Theatre is very small. So you are on the bus and the minute you are going to perform, you are like, “you are over here, you are backstage.” There is no room backstage so you just do your show, and file out onto the bus. But it was really good.
We had a lot of questions on Instagram from girls who want to know what advice would you give to other teens who want to do what you are doing.
Well, shout out to my teens. Represent! So from my perspective: take what you have and work with it. Be authentic, because everything always comes back to that. Because you can try hard, you can do this. I mean, of course, train, do whatever you feel is right for your journey, but be authentic, because there are a lot of people trying to be copies of other people.
Okay. I agree. Yes, but not in that way. Unless you are playing someone on Broadway, don’t try to copy someone.
What was the first Broadway show you saw?
Oh my goodness. Between the trips with my mom and dad and school trips, probably Billy Elliot. And I want so bad for Billy Elliot to come back. I regret not seeing Motown
What was the favorite thing you have done so far, acting-wise?
Acting-wise? Wow. That’s a great question. Aside from On Your Feet and “Backpack,” believe it or not, the subtle commercials — like I did one for Mercedes-Benz.
For the car brand? But you don’t drive.
No. I was a kid. Of course. It was a family advertisement. I just like that because, this is my commercial, guys, you have to catch it, this is amazing. After Empire, watch the commercial. I feel they are sort of cool in a subtle way. They are like mini shows. You see a whole production going on for hours, days even and it’s for a thirty or sixty second spot usually. It’s cool to me how so much work goes into something that subtly comes and presents itself, then onto the next commercial.
For Dora, did you have to audition a lot or did you just get offered the part?
I had five callbacks because there were thousands of girls globally for “Backpack,” and thankfully I had the role and yes, it was good. It was one of my first auditions ever, so I was like, “callbacks? Am I doing something wrong?” And it’s like, “no, it’s the opposite.”
So it was one of the first things you auditioned for and then you got it? That’s awesome.
What show are you looking forward to that’s coming to Broadway?
Oh, Miss Saigon. Everyone is talking about the soundtrack. I am like, fine, I will see it in reboot. Eva Noblezada, I saw her at the Jimmy Awards, I think. She is amazing. I can’t wait to see her.
Have you seen School of Rock yet?
Oh, yeah. I have seen it twice. Awesome. It’s great. If I ever wanted to play 80 instruments at the same time, it’s been at the Winter Garden.
I don’t know how those kids do that.
Are you on tonight?
No. We switched. What’s amazing about right now is that we switched and then we do Saturday, Saturday, Sunday, Sunday and then Wednesday is free for all.
So you are not on tonight? Were you on earlier today?
Yes. I don’t have a show tonight so that’s great.
Joy: Oh, that’s awesome.
Megan: Ana [Villafañe] just went to DC.
J: Her vlog makes me laugh
M: She is like, “I am going to show me eating the whole time.”
J: The Broadway vlogs are always so funny. I went and re-watched the Spring Awakening vlogs recently.
It’s so good, because after you take off all that makeup — like in a Neutrogena commercial — after you take off all that, what is under is so much more beautiful. Really it is. She is cool.
J: Do you still have to be at the show if you are not on, just in case something happens?
J: Did it ever happen?
No. It’s good. It’s fun. And when I am there, I am prepping for the second show.
M: How was being outside for the Thanksgiving parade? Was it cold the day of the Thanksgiving parade?
It was good. It was cold and we were in coats.
J: Which dress were you wearing?
My red one. Actually, in Chicago, in the other run, I had a gold one, sequined one and I still have it hanging up there. I have forgotten to take it home for months.
J: You get to keep it? That’s cool.
It’s great because they are not using it anymore.
J: We were talking to Sarah Charles Lewis [Winnie in Tuck Everlasting]. She is like, “I didn’t get to keep anything.” She took the bow anyway.
If you can take anything, take a bow.
J: She took the bow. She was wearing it when she stage doored. Did you see Tuck Everlasting on Broadway?
M: It was like here and gone.
J: It was here for a second. That was very sad.
Every day we are like, “you know, it’s amazing to be here still.”
Thank you. You are so cute.