Groff, who grew up in Lancaster, Pa., said, “I know when I was a kid, theater was like an escape for me, as a closeted teenager. And I think I really relate to when Frank says, ‘Music is my life, without music, I would die.’ Musical theater at that age was, like, lifesaving. And so to be now, at 38, doing a musical as a more fully realized version of who I am … I always went to theater to escape and to express and get out of my life completely. And it’s like this show — and maybe this is what makes it so unique and what brought me to this experience — this show is both the escape and bringing me into my own life at the same time.”
Mendez, who described growing up in California as a “Mexican Jew,” attended a largely white school in Orange County “where no one thought I belonged” and where she was told that as an actor, she would have a limited future, if any. When she arrived in New York at 18, she discovered, like Groff, “that New York and theater was where I was accepted, when I felt like I wasn’t accepted anywhere else.”
By 2018, she had racked up a substantial list of stage credits and won a Tony for her performance that year in “Carousel.” But when she moved back to Los Angeles to do a television series, her life began to feel unsettled.
When Groff, whom she knew casually, called her to say that a casting agent had said she would be perfect for the part of Mary, she had become a mother and was newly divorced. “I was like, I don’t live in New York anymore, and I don’t know who I really am right now. I feel really lost. How am I going to do this?” Mendez said.
“But somehow, magically, it all just worked. And when I got back here, the first day I walked in with them, it was just like, Oh my God, I’m home. And I know who I am and what I’m made to do. Of course I ended up here. There was no other place to end up.”