Broadway shows like On Your Feet! and In The Heights celebrate joyful Latin American stories, and upon its 2021 reopening, Chicago became the latest musical to showcase Latinx talent, with three leading cast members of Latin American descent, including Bianca Marroquín and Ana Villafañe as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly.
With American Hispanic Heritage Month underway, we rounded up notable Latina actresses who have graced the Broadway stage, from long-career stars to freshly famous faces.
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The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be Ana. Ana Villafañe is currently starring as Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway as part of a trio of Latinx leads including Marroquín as Velma Kelly and Paulo Szot as Billy Flynn. The Cuban Salvadoran actress first made a name for herself on Broadway originating the role of Gloria Estefan — who coincidentally attended the same high school as Villafañe — in On Your Feet!, the biographical musical about the Miami Sound Machine icon. She received a Theatre World Award for her performance alongside Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, and Astaire Awards.
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Bianca Marroquín is no stranger to all that jazz. The Mexican actress started her career in her native country, performing in major musicals there such as Rent, The Phantom of the Opera — and Chicago. She played Roxie Hart in the Mexican production which led to her to move to Broadway. She was the youngest actress to play Roxie Hart (she was 27 when she took the role) and the first Mexican actress to hold a leading role on Broadway. She later became the first Mexican actor to win a Helen Hayes Award in Washington, D.C., for performing in the U.S. and Canada tour of the musical. She has performed as Roxie on multiple occasions in the past 20 years and is now starring as Velma Kelly in Chicago. On screen, she portrayed Chita Rivera, another iconic Velma Kelly, in the 2019 miniseries Fosse/Verdon.
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With parents like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lucie Arnaz was all but destined for a successful acting career of her own. After starting out in television like her parents, Arnaz quickly carved herself a place in the musical theatre world, making her Broadway debut as Sonia Walsk in 1979’s They’re Playing Our Song and winning two Best Actress in a Musical awards for it (the Theatre World Award and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award). She’s also appeared on Broadway in Lost In Yonkers, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and, most recently, the 2013 revival of Pippin, playing the title character’s grandmother Berthe for a stint in 2014. Offstage, Arnaz is a Golden Globe nominee for her performance in 1980’s The Jazz Singer.
Venezuelan-Jewish actress Andréa Burns launched her career at 18, touring Europe’s opera houses as Maria in West Side Story. After acting on Broadway as Belle in Beauty and the Beast and as Vicki Nichols in The Full Monty (a role she reprised on the national tour), she landed her most well-known role as Daniela in In the Heights. She originated the role off Broadway in 2007 and transferred with the production to Broadway the next year.
She followed this role up with a turn in Douglas Carter Beane’s Tony-winning play The Nance opposite Nathan Lane and most recently originated the role of Gloria Fajardo in the Gloria Estefan bio-musical On Your Feet! She has also appeared extensively in touring productions and on screen, and has a solo album A Deeper Shade of Red.
No me diga! Like Burns, Dacal had her breakout role in In the Heights, playing Daniela’s co-hairdresser Carla from 2007 and winning the Drama Desk Award for her performance. (She also went on as the leading characters Vanessa and Nina as the understudy for both roles.) The Cuban-American actress’s Broadway career began three years earlier with her debut in the Beach Boys jukebox musical Good Vibrations, and her most recent Broadway venture was in the limited-run musical Prince of Broadway in 2017. At the beginning of 2020, she also starred as Dina in the national tour of The Band’s Visit.
Ariana DeBose is hot stuff on the theatre scene right now. The Afro-Puerto Rican actress’s performance in the original ensemble of Hamilton reached new audiences when the musical was released on Disney+ in 2020. Later that year, she starred as Alyssa Greene in the Netflix film adaptation of The Prom and followed it up with an appearance in the 2021 musical TV show Schmigadoon! She’s also set to star as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story film to be released this year.
Not to mention, she’s been a Broadway regular for the past 10 years, having made her debut in Bring It On: The Musical in 2011 and later performing in Motown: The Musical, Pippin, and A Bronx Tale. In 2018, she originated the role of “Disco” Donna Summer in the disco star’s eponymous jukebox musical and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical that year.
Mandy Gonzalez has established herself as a bonafide Broadway leading lady. After holding small roles in the musicals Aida and Lennon, she originated the role of Nina in In the Heights, receiving a Drama Desk Award for her performance in the original Off-Broadway production and reprising the role on Broadway. The Mexican-Jewish actress has gone on to star as Elphaba in Wicked and as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, a role she currently plays. Onscreen, she starred in the 2016 ABC series Quantico and held roles in shows such as The Good Wife and Madam Secretary.
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Puerto Rican actress Priscilla Lopez has the rare distinction of having appeared in one of Broadway’s biggest hits — the long-running classic A Chorus Line — and one of its biggest flops — the Breakfast at Tiffany’s musical adaptation, which closed before opening night. However, her career only went up from that short-lived turn in Tiffany’s as a teenager, and Lopez soon made a respected career for herself. Her role as Diana Morales in A Chorus Line, which is drawn from Lopez’s own experiences as a drama student, won her an Obie Award and a Theatre World ensemble award for the Off-Broadway production along with a Tony nomination when the musical transferred to Broadway. She later won a Tony for starring in A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine.
Lopez has also performed in In the Heights, 8½, Anna and the Tropics, the original Company production and twice in Pippin: as Fastrada in the original Broadway production and as Berthe in the 2013 revival. Moreover, her talent runs in the family: her nephew, playwright Matthew Lopez, won the Best Play Tony Award for his work The Inheritance.
Lindsay Mendez, a Mexican-Jewish actress, has established herself as a familiar Broadway presence since her debut as Jan in Grease in 2008. She has also performed on Broadway in Everyday Rapture, Godspell, Significant Other, and as Elphaba in Wicked during the show’s 10th anniversary.
For her most recent Broadway turn as Carrie Pipperidge in the 2018 Carousel revival, she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Her most famous Off-Broadway venture, as Rose Fenny in 2012’s Dogfight, was also an acclaimed one, earning Mendez Drama Desk, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations.
Cuban actress Olga Merediz’s acting career spans more than 35 years, with her Broadway credits including a 1984 debut in The Human Comedy as well as roles in Mamma Mia! (as Rosie), Les Misérables, Man of La Mancha, and Reckless. She has also appeared on screen extensively since the ’80s, with TV credits including NBC's Shades of Blue and Netflix's Orange Is the New Black and film credits including Evita and Martin’s Room, plus dozens more.
Her most notable role on both stage and screen, however, is as Abuela Claudia in In the Heights. She received a 2008 Tony nomination for originating the role, went on to play Abuela for the show’s entire Broadway run, and reprised her role for the 2021 In the Heights film adaptation.
The awards Rita Moreno earned during her career could be their own article. She is in the select class of artists to have achieved EGOT status, with at least one Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony to her name, and one of only 24 people who have achieved the “Triple Crown of Acting,” having earned individual Academy, Emmy, and Tony Awards. (Only Helen Hayes also has both distinctions.) Moreno has also won various lifetime achievement awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Kennedy Center Honor, and the Peabody Career Achievement Award. The Hispanic Organization of Latin Actresses’s Award for Excellence is also named for Moreno.
All these accolades are the result of a prolific 70-plus-year performance career. Her most famous stage credit is her Tony Award-winning performance in The Ritz, but she has appeared most extensively on screen, with roles in multiple Golden Age musical films such as West Side Story (earning an Oscar for her performance as Anita), The King and I, and Singin’ in the Rain, as well as dozens of other films and television shows. In 2021, she is still going strong — and returning to her West Side Story roots. Moreno will play Valentina in Steven Spielberg’s film remake of the classic musical.
Most Broadway actresses dream of a career like two-time Tony Award-nominated actress Eva Noblezada’s, and she’s achieved a great deal all before the age of 25. After the American-Fillipino actress won the National High School Musical Theatre Awards — the Jimmy Awards — she was cast as Kim in the West End revival of Miss Saigon. (Yes, at just 17 years old, Noblezada was leading a London show.) When she reprised the role on Broadway, she earned her first Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical at 20 years old. She’s also been Eponine in Les Miserables, but she’s currently wowing Broadway theatregoers as Eurydice in Hadestown. Just like her character, Noblezada’s career is nothing short of mythical and magical; she’s a leading lady for the younger generation.
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Karen Olivo, an actress of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, has had a stage career that has spanned nearly 25 years. She made her professional debut in the original company of Rent in 1997, but rose to prominence on Broadway originating the role of Vanessa in In the Heights opposite Lin-Manuel Miranda. Her performance won her the Astaire Award for Best Dancer, and they followed up their acclaimed turn with a performance as Anita in West Side Story in 2009. That role earned Olivo a Tony Award, making her the only actor to ever win a Tony for West Side Story, alongside Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Astaire Award nominations. Her most recent standout performance was as Satine in the original company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, for which they received a Tony Award nomination and an Outer Critics Circle Award. However, Olivo resigned from the production in 2021.
Now that Olivo has taken a step back from Broadway and commercial theatre, she has pivoted her efforts to equally commendable activism and outreach work. They have taken multiple breaks from acting during their career to pursue teaching, having taught university classes and opened a private studio to teach young performers in their current home state of Wisconsin. In the past year, Olivo has also used her platform to speak out in favor of equitable inclusion and social justice in the theatre industry.
Shereen Pimentel is a relatively new star on the Broadway scene. The Afro-Latina actress made her Broadway debut in 2009 as Young Nala in The Lion King, but she gained greater attention when she was cast as Maria in the 2019 revival of West Side Story. Pimentel received critical acclaim for her performance, but the show closed after only a few months as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and did not reopen. However, it’s far from likely that’s the last we’ll see of the young Juilliard alumna. We spoke to Pimentel last year, and you can read more from Shereen Pimentel here.
Bitten by the Broadway bug after a childhood trip to New York, Krysta Rodriguez has definitely achieved her theatre dreams! Having found fame on Broadway as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family, we’re all pulled into her career now. Recently, she’s played Meg in an outdoor stage adaptation of Hercules, as well as playing the Puerto Rican character Diana Morales in A Chorus Line at Hollywood Bowl.
Rodriguez isn’t just a theatre actress though. She’s also found fame on hit television shows like Smash, Daybreak and Quantico. Channelling Broadway actresses too, like Liza Minnelli in Halston, we’ll all be watching Rodriguez for decades to come.
Rivera is nothing short of a Broadway icon — and her three Tony Awards (out of 10 nominations), including one Lifetime Achievement Award, prove it. Not to mention her Presidential Medal of Freedom and her Kennedy Center honor, which she, a Puerto Rican actress, was the first Latin American person to ever receive. Her awards reflect a more than 60-year career during which she originated iconic musical roles such as Anita in West Side Story, Velma Kelly in Chicago, and the Spider Woman/Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman. The latter earned Rivera her second Best Actress Tony Award; her first was as Anna in the 1984 Kander and Ebb musical The Rink.
Rivera has been Tony-nominated for her roles in Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie, Bring Back Birdie, Nine, Jerry’s Girls, The Visit, and the revue Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, where she played herself. She has also appeared on multiple television shows and Broadway documentary films. From 1988 to 1994, Rivera even co-owned a Theatre District eatery, Chita’s, named for her.