When a person is a true creature of the theatre, all aspects of their life will often intertwine with the stage. When the personal and the professional begin to blur, a true community is formed, equal parts coworkers and confidantes. And showmances are sometimes inevitable. Such was the case with Priscilla Lopez, now back on the boards in Michael John LaChiusa’s newest musical The Gardens of Anuncia at Lincoln Center Theater. Lopez met her husband during the original Broadway run of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company, and their love story is one for the ages.
At the time, she was a stand-by for Donna McKechnie as Kathy, and one day, a mysterious man caught her watchful eye. “He was a sub for the trombone,” Lopez remembers, her expressive eyes warm with remembered excitement. “He came in one night, and I was like ‘Who is THAT?!’” As Lopez ran around backstage, struck by love, another dancer informed her that the man she had spotted walking into the pit was a substitute for the usual trombone player. He would only be with the show for a few nights. “So, I got to work fast.”
The man was Vincent Fanuele, a respected trombone player, conductor, and music director. “I saw him February 15, 1971, and by January 16, 1972, I was married.” Lopez laughs, flashing her ring. The pair are still going strong more than 50 years later, and so is Lopez, reigning as one of the most beloved actor-dancers of her generation. Fitting then, that she is now breathing renewed vigor into the life story of Graciela Daniele, one of the greatest dancers in Broadway history.
It hasn't all been shimmering perfection, however. While working on Her First Roman in 1968, Lopez's trick to keep her wig on over her short hair backfired. "I always had short hair, and I had to pin curl my hair to hold the wig. And every time I took it off, I'd see my hair falling out. So I just figured out that if I put my dance briefs on my head, and just filled them with stuff to create bulk, I could let the wig sit there. And it worked great!"
Things went awry, however, when Lopez's hair-saving trick spread throughout the company. "We're having a parade for the funeral. All of a sudden, from the girl in front of me, this white bra falls out," Lopez laughs, visually demonstrating how a bra slipped out from under the back of her co-stars wig. "I was hysterical...And well...I peed myself. And we were on a raked stage. And the pee went down to the floor." Lopez shakes her head, smiling. "It was terrible!"
Lopez made plenty of mistake-free history between Company and The Gardens of Anuncia. A Tony winner for Tommy Tune’s A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine, Lopez originated the role of Diana in A Chorus Line (introducing the now beloved songs “Nothing” and “What I Did For Love”), picked up a career honor Rita Moreno HOLA Award for Excellence from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors, and kickstarted the meteoric ascent of Lin-Manuel Miranda as a long-standing principal in his first musical, In The Heights.
“At that point in time, my parents had died,” Lopez recalls, referring to the original Off-Broadway run of In the Heights. “I didn't have any family in the city. I hadn't been hearing my language, I hadn't been eating my food. So, I kind of felt like an orphan. And when I got into this show…it was like it all came back.” Lopez smiles, her eyes sparkling. “Ah Lin-Manuel…he's a sweetie pie. I love ya!”
To see Lopez share other memories (including which costume pieces from A Chorus Line she brought home as financial investments for her children's future), check out the complete video of her flipping through her theatre memories above.
My Life in the Theatre is filmed at New York’s Alchemical Studios.