While it seems that live theater is making rumbles with New York Mayor DeBlasio saying Fall could be a real re-opening date, Bite Sized Broadway forges ahead with original mini musicals. “Un-Block The Music” has been patiently awaiting the April 5th premiere of MTA which stars today’s “Woman Wonders” subject the multi-talented Gabrielle Ruiz. While she is easily recognizable from her days as Valencia on the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, her theater credits captured my attention first. She performed on Broadway in If/Then with Idina Menzel (which I saw!!!), in Evita with Ricky Martin, in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights and in the first National Tour of A Chorus Line. And, that’s not all, she does voice overs (eg. Star Trek, Lower Deck) and she has a popular podcast, What Are Friends For with her best friend Pallavi Sastry.
First, I want to talk about MTA and Bite Sized Broadway from Indie Works Theatre Company. These mini musicals are fully-produced radio plays, complete with lush orchestrations and captivating sound effects As you may remember, “Un-Block The Music” interviewed the podcast musical director Jonathan Lynch (https://unblockthemusic.blog/2020/10/06/get-your-fix-of-new-musical-theater-twice-a-month-on-bite-sized-broadway-a-mini-musical-podcast/).
“Indie Works’ creative team reached out to me on a cold call (rather a cold email) with an offer to do MTA,” said Gabrielle who accepted with a resounding “yes”. “If you close your eyes when you listen to Bite Sized Broadway, you feel like you are in a theater. They are doing a spectacular job and really taking live theater by the horns with what we can do right now. They are redefining the word possible. It was so nice to be part of such a ground breaking project.” Gabrielle said the company personifies the quote “A lot of creativity comes from restrictions!”
Having grown up in South Texas before the age of YouTube, how did Gabrielle find her way to the New York stage? Dance. “I was the front row dancer that always knew the steps. Dancing was easy for me since the age of 3, but I had no early exposure to acting. Our public schools had choir and theater, but the focus was more on how to build a set not learning Shakespeare.” Then, Gabrielle took a family trip to New York when she was 12 years old, and she saw BIG the musical. “Everyone in the cast was my age! I saw people were getting paid to be in a show that afternoon and then coming back later to do it again!”
While musical theater may not have been part of Gabrielle’s public-school education, as she said, there was choir and theater. In fact, one of her greatest mentors was her choir teacher. Gabrielle strongly believes in public school. “Arts education is a very deserved pillar of public education. The arts helped me learn discipline, but there is more. To be able to compose music, you need math. To create a script, you need grammar and writing.” “Un-Block The Music,” too is an advocate for arts in the schools whose leaders constantly say they want to produce well-rounded students. How, then, can they possibly take away the arts? I could write volumes about this topic.
Anyway, the arts is about hard work, Gabrielle said. That hard work shows on the stage. “I was the one that would stay after class always wanting to get better. In theater, I found people with values like me.” Of course, being a Latina was tough because people assumed, she would only go on West Side Story auditions. “But, I was lucky to often be the one alternative. My coloring was fair enough to be cast in the ensemble.” With the shut-down, theater has gone within to reexamine its goals. “Un-Block The Music” loves how Gabrielle describes the social changes happening in entertainment right now. “Theater is like a Phoenix. There is a lot of ending and burning to go through to complete a chapter. We are in the dormant phase before we resurface.”
Gabrielle’s dancing was always revered, but her acting skills were not. She said, first she cried when it was pointed out, then she took acting classes to get better! She did get better! At that point, she was booking dance jobs and had to convince her agents that television was something she wanted to explore. They resisted at first, they couldn’t understand why she wanted to struggle with television when she was booking jobs in theater. She continued to push and landed parts on Orange Is The New Black and Law and Order. Then, the audition for My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend came up. (Certainly, a dream job, with acting and singing every week.) “They asked me to fly to LA on my own dime. I took the risk and it changed my life forever!”
However, Gabrielle just never rests, and looks for all types of opportunities. One project she is very proud of is the podcast she does with her best friend, Pallavi Sastry. What Are Friends For is about platonic friendships and relationships. “We dive into joyful, meaningful, and uncomfortable conversations about platonic love in a socially distanced world; whether near, far, or 6-feet apart.” There have been 37 episodes so far; some playful, such as the one they did with Broadway star, Megan Hilty. Others have tackled tough topics such as Asian hate. The duo hopes that their podcast will be picked up by a network for television broadcast.
“Un-Block The Music” asked Gabrielle what else is on her bucket list. Of course, Broadway is always a goal. Last summer, she did a reading of Like Water For Chocolate. Grammy Award winner La Santa Cecilia’s lead singer Marisol “La Marisoul” Hernandez, accordionist and requinto player Jose “Pepe” Carlos, bassist Alex Bendaña, and percussionist Miguel “Oso” Ramirez composed the score. Gabrielle said,” it was so nice to be in the theater with Broadway Voices.”
Then, there is the dream. “I am finally the right age to play Velma Kelly in Chicago! A season of playing that role would be great! Then, I’ve also always wanted to do a Christmas album! And, I am ready for another television series!” Wow!!! This “Wonderful Woman,” on top of her talent, has never-ending energy and ambition. Keep watching for what comes next!
In the meantime, sign on to MTA next Friday, April 5. Here’s the show’s plot summary: On a sweltering summer morning on a crowded subway platform, three strangers, each very different from the others, wait for a train that is running on major delay after major delay. The longer they wait, the hotter they get. The hotter they get, the more irritated they become. In a funny and at times touching mini-musical, we go on a rollercoaster ride as these strangers go from frustration to sexual frustration, learning that sometimes you’ve gotta take the opportunities that come to you, no matter how awkward and irritating they might be.