From a Red Hawk to one of the Sharks, alumnus Carlos E. Gonzalez ’11 has been shining bright on the big stage ever since leaving Montclair State. Gonzalez, a former Acting major with a minor in Dance, is set to play one of the “Sharks” in the upcoming West Side Story film directed by Steven Spielberg. In addition to his role in the movie, Gonzalez will also be returning to Broadway with a reimagined musical revival of West Side Story directed by Ivo Van Hove. You can also catch a glimpse of him in the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights which is scheduled to hit movie theaters in 2020.
“I consider my role in West Side Story my greatest professional accomplishment,” says Gonzalez. “Telling this incredible story and getting to work with Steven Spielberg is truly a dream.”
After graduation, Gonzalez was presented with exciting opportunities to continue growing as a performer. He took on roles in In The Heights, Zorro The Musical, and the Off-Broadway show FUERZA BRUTA, as well as various regional productions. He made his Broadway debut in On Your Feet and received a nomination for a Fred Astaire Award as Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway show. He also performed for Telemundo, Norwegian Cruise Lines, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and made appearances in various TV commercials.
Carlos had the opportunity to return to his home country of Cuba as part of the creative team of the first professional musical, Rent, which was produced in that country after 50 years.
“I always hoped that I would have the opportunity to work in this field because I was truly passionate about it,” he says. “I knew I was getting myself into a very competitive field.”
Gonzalez entered Montclair State as an undeclared student. He unfortunately missed the audition date for the BFA Acting program. He took the opportunity to explore other options before committing to the program. Once he was able to audition, he was certain that he wanted to pursue a career in acting and performing.
“I was introduced to dance my first year. Lori Katterhenry, chair of the Dance department, encouraged me to audition for a dance show and take ballet as an elective,” he says. “Her encouragement is something I’ll always be thankful for.”
As a student, Gonzalez was determined to be the best that he could be. In fact, he was one of the very few students who was involved in various plays, dance performances and musicals at Montclair State. Like many that once stood before him, he also had the opportunity to work with Clay James, coordinator of the Musical Theatre program. “Clay James introduced me to the world of Musical Theatre,” he says.
Gonzalez is grateful to James for encouraging him to audition for musicals and to grow as a performer. With determination and the assistance of James, he was cast in musicals that allowed him to combine both his passions for dancing and acting. As evidence of his hard work, Gonzalez became the first person to win awards by both the American College Dance Festival and the American College Theater Festival during his junior year.
However, Gonzalez is most thankful for having a mentor who not only encouraged him to push himself as a performer, but who always advised him to stay true to himself.
“Clay helped me embrace my authenticity of being Cuban and recognize that authenticity is what was going to help me succeed in the real world,” he says. “And it did.”
Gonzalez is appreciative for his time at Montclair State and credits the institution for giving him the foundation and training to succeed as a performer. He encourages students to take as many classes as they can and never take any opportunity for granted. “Take in as much information as you can – even if at the moment it doesn’t seem like it will be useful,” he advises.