Star of the Week: Andréa Burns’ Nuanced Ability to Surprise Audiences Puts Her On Top

andrea burns

by Celeste Montaño

It seems that Andréa Burns loves contradictions. Her shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below, for example, are inspired by her love for both musical theatre and pop music, often featuring Sondheim’s work alongside Celia Cruz’s or Sara Bareilles’. Broadway knows her best as Daniela, the gossipy salon owner from In the Heights whose support for Vanessa verges on maternal despite a tough-love exterior. Though the role could have easily been relegated to stock comedic relief, Burns’ ability to capture nuance turned Daniela into a crowd favorite and earned her a loyal fanbase that continues to stick with her.

A self-described “Venezuelan Jewess from Miami Beach who grew up loving Broadway,” Burns got her start during a European tour of West Side Story then made her Broadway debut in Beauty and the Beast. Burns understudied the main roles of both shows, a fact which often garners surprise because Burns’ most recent roles have relied heavily on her wise cracks and belting chops, largely obscuring her soprano voice. In 1995, she appeared in the original company of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World. In a 2007 interview with Playbill, Burns described the show’s importance in her life by stating, “I was about 22 years old when I did it. It was the first thing I did in New York that sort of put me on the map.” Even today, she regularly performs songs from the show in concerts.

Burns went on to originate several roles Off-Broadway, including in Sondheim’s Saturday Night, and toured with productions of Parade and The Full Monty. Despite her extensive theatre credits, however, her most prominent role arrived with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. She joined the show while it was still in a workshop phase and continued with In the Heights until it closed on Broadway. Throughout her run, many fans were surprised to find that Daniela’s blunt, no-nonsense attitude was sometimes at complete odds with the quiet, thoughtful person who greeted them at the stage door with gracious words and happy smile.

Burns, the cafecito-loving Elaine Stritch fangirl, can now be seen at the Marquis Theatre playing Gloria Fajardo in On Your Feet!, the musical based on the lives of Gloria and Esteban Estefan. Burns plays Gloria’s mother and recently told BroadwayBox that she was most excited about getting to sing “Mi Tierra” onstage. “My mom is an immigrant from Venezuela and growing up in Miami surrounded by my friends’ families who were Cuban immigrants, it’s a very powerful anthem that has been around me for a long time.” Gloria’s mom causes many of the disagreements that push the musical forward, once again highlighting the contradictions between Burns’ personalities on- and off-stage. On Your Feet!, which opened in November 2015, shows no signs of stopping and neither does Burns, whose ability to constantly surprise an audience will continue to make her a star on Broadway for years to come.

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