CHITA RIVERA, RITA MORENO AND NOW ANDRÉA BURNS
For the last 20 years, Andréa Burns has been paving the way for aspiring Latina Broadway actors practically unbeknownst to herself. “I didn’t realize it in that way until you said it. There was such a big gap in between,” Burns said after a long pause and somewhat in disbelief. A 20 year gap, coincidentally, and to be exact. While a huge fan of groundbreaking Latina actors Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno (Priscilla Lopez is not to be forgotten she reminds), Burns grew up admiring the Broadway stars of her generation: Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Ben Vereen. “Raul Julia was the closest,” Burns recalls. “There wasn’t a female counterpart for me to look to in that way. The time wasn’t right, there weren’t the opportunities because I’m sure there were certainly very talented women sitting around waiting for those opportunities. Not sitting around- really working hard- and just not being seen.” In fact, the Drama Desk Award winning actress, currently starring as Gloria Fajardo (Gloria Estefan’s mother) in the Broadway hit, “On Your Feet!”, couldn’t get a reading for Beauty and the Beast because of it. “At the time, Beauty and the Beast had just opened on Broadway and I was really trying to get seen for it but they did not think I was the right type so I was constantly typed out of it even though I thought I was perfect for it.” But in the end, Burns talent – “type” or not – could not be denied. “I ended up doing this small Off-Broadway show, “Songs for a New World,” singing original music pretty much as myself and by the end of that run, the casting director of Beauty and the Beast came and saw it and arranged a private audition for me. I got to do Belle in Beauty and the Beast from that.” It was a huge role and the beginning of what was soon to be a prolific career for Burns on Broadway.
LATINA JEWESS FROM THE 305
Andréa Burns grew up in Miami where she attended New World School of the Arts (coincidentally a few years prior to Alex Lacamoire, the musical director and orchestrator of “In the Heights,” “Hamilton” and of her sold-out, one-woman shows at 54 Below). “I loved growing up in a bicultural city,” Burns said. “I feel very attached, even though I am Venezuelan, I feel very attached to the Cuban culture. The death of Castro had a big impact on me. Growing up around my friends and their parents and their abuelos and knowing the pain of the exile. It all feels very close and personal to me even though it’s not necessarily my background.” Being Latina and Jewish has brought her interesting perspective, but she points out it’s not all that defines her as an actor. “I was introduced in an interview as the Latina Queen of Broadway. To me it’s a delightful honor, but it is certainly not all of who I am so that’s a little weird?” she said in an uncertain tone. “I’m an actor and a storyteller, that’s always what I’ve felt inside me and who I am, but I’ve also definitely been aware that I have the privilege of seeing the world from several points of view.”
A photo posted by On Your Feet! (@onyourfeetbway) on
BEFORE THERE WAS HAMILTON…
While Burns has enjoyed lead roles in several Broadway hits such as “Vicky Nichols” in The Full Monty and “Carmen” opposite Nathan Lane in The Nance, one of her most memorable and beloved roles is “Daniela,” in Lin Manuel- Miranda’s Valentine to his culture and debut play, “In the Heights.” At the time, the Tony Award winning “In the Heights” was groundbreaking not only for Broadway, but for Latino actors as well. “In the Heights was culturally a game changer for Broadway because up to then, we had normally seen either a white story with a Latin American side character or half and half as we see in West Side Story and this was a story all about Latinos living in NY, ” Burns said. “We in the cast knew it was extraordinary because most of us were not used to being in shows with one another. It was either you got the Latino part in that show or I got the Latino part. There wasn’t room for all of us. The fact that we were out there celebrating who we were and being introduced to the world through the magical pen of Lin Manuel Miranda -It was fantastic.”
Burns originated the role of Daniella, the dramatic peluquera/salon owner of “In the Heights” and relished every single moment of it. “Digging into that role was like digging into your favorite hot fudge sunday with all of the best toppings,” she said. “ Lin Manuel handed me a gift. He basically said, ‘This is the owner of a hair salon and she likes her chisme- go!’” Burns, of Venezuelan descent, had plenty of material to reference. “Anybody who grew up in a Latin hair salon knows!,” she said with a huge laugh. “I come from a Venezuelan background and beauty is very important to us so we were in that salon all the time in Miami. Daniella is pretty much an amalgam of all the hairdressers that I encountered in my life and I had tremendous fun creating her. It was heaven on earth.”
ON YOUR FEET!
While Burns had the pleasure of molding and creating Daniella, she is now tasked in “On Your Feet!” with playing Gloria Fajardo, a very real and living person who just so happens to be Gloria Estefan’s Mother and a force in her own right. “ Gloria Fajardo is something very different (from Daniella) because of course this is a living person, so you have a great responsibility to depict and honor this person in her real life.” The role is complex, Fajardo is conflicted in more ways than one and can easily be seen as the villain. “ She really is the conflict of the play which no one really sees coming or understands,” said Burns. “She’s a complex women but she also had to endure so much more than Gloria in the sense of being cast out of her home, having to be separated from her husband, not knowing if she would see him or her relatives again.
She had a PhD in Education which they ripped up at the airport when she decided to leave (Cuba),” said Burns. “She had to start from nothing and she did.” Fajardo at 87 years-old no longer travels so she has not seen the show, but is fully aware of all the play is about and Burns depiction of her. “We’ve had phone conversation where she said to me, ‘It’s not easy to be the bad guy’,“ Burns said a la Fajardo. “I feel like I understand her point of view about wanting to protect her daughter above all else. She could have never seen the incredible impact that her daughter was going to have through music on the world.” Burns must be doing something right certainly in the audiences eyes but in Fajardos as well. “I told her you’re right, you are the bad guy but in the end they (audience) love you and she said, ‘That probably has more to do with you than me.’’” To which Burns responded, “No, we’re a team.” “You can’t imagine what a force of nature and brilliant woman Gloria Fajardo is,” Burns added. Check out the force that is Gloria Fajardo rapping -and killing it- on her Instagram feed, #rapuela.
Andréa Burns IS the new Latina Queen of Broadway. A moniker I realized she was not fully aware of but was truly humbled at the realization. She never thought of herself as a Latina actor but as an actor and storyteller. She went after the roles she wanted. She made them hers and saw no reason why they couldn’t be. Because of her, young Latino/Latina actors can now reference her as someone they can relate to and aspire to be like. No role is beyond them thanks in great part to yes Moreno, Rivera and now, in their formative years, Burns. “I’m very humbled that during my time the lens has widened and people’s minds have been open to understand that there are many different vantage points of the American experience. That we don’t deal with stereotype, that we deal with human stories so there are parts for me to play at a time when I’m ready to play them. It’s a gift. Its destiny.”