When Hamilton star Mandy Gonzalez sat down with her good friend, actor, writer and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, to discuss writing a song for her upcoming album, she had an unlikely source of inspiration: #FearlessSquad, the massive, inspirational social media movement that she started “by happenstance” after posting a picture of herself and some of her cast mates.
“Looking at my social media, I felt that there could be a lot more positivity and it seemed like there was an urgency for people to have a sense of belonging,” Gonzalez — who currently plays Angelica Schuyler in the hit Broadway musical — tells PEOPLE about the movement that eventually inspired the title track of her debut album, Fearless, out Oct. 20. “#FearlessSquad is a community of people who encourage one another to fulfill their dreams, and anybody can be a part of it. I put it on social media and it got thousands of people to post their own #FearlessSquad, and to ask, ‘How can I become a part of this, what can I do?’ So I told Lin about it and he was completely inspired and wrote a song called ‘Fearless,’ and it’s for everyone to be inspired, or if they’re feeling like they’re not enough, to know that they can fight and they can stand together and be whatever they want to be.”
The resulting song (which is available on Oct. 6 if you pre-order the album) is something of a rallying cry to encourage people to build a community and use it to do good.
“There’s a line where I say, ‘walls come down,’ and those walls reference so many things right now in our culture and as people and as individuals,” Gonzalez says. “And dreamers, especially, feeling walls come down but they can’t limit us, and we can make walls come down with just our voice, those kind of lyrics inspire me.”
“Fearless” also has another emotional significance for Gonzalez, as Miranda wrote in a verse that charts the love story between Gonzalez’s parents. Her father, a Mexican-American migrant worker, and her mother, “a Jewish girl from the Valley,” fell in love as pen pals while her father fought in the Vietnam War. “At this time in the world, I think it was a very important message to have out there. I’m super proud of having an album that’s called Fearless because I think that everybody deserves some kind of fearless squad and if they don’t have one, they can put on the album and feel like they’re part of mine.”
And that sense of community that Gonzalez is keen to foster is also on display every night at the Richard Rogers Theater, where she gets to connect with all of the “Ham Fans” who are so deeply connected to the show. “It takes me an extra half hour to forty-five minutes at the stage door to sign autographs and get through, because people are so passionate. They just want to get your autograph or touch you or talk to you about what Hamilton means to them, so every night I feel a different reaction.
“Sometimes, with the king [King George III, currently played by Euan Morton], it’s a thing where they go, ‘Oh, I’m hearing those things on the news right now,’ or they look how things were and how [the founding fathers] made it through, so I think it gives people that come and see the show a sense of hope. At least that’s what I hope because that’s what it gives me every night,” says Gonzalez.
Another major significance of starring in the most popular musical on Broadway is getting to see children connect with the actors that look like them onstage. “I had one of my friends bring her 9-year-old son, who’s African-American, and he came to the show and the first thing he said was, ‘He looks like me,’ and to hear that was such a beautiful thing,” she says. “For this to be his first show, and to know that those events happened right here, in America, and this person, these people — it’s the same as #FearlessSquad. These people were individuals that had a dream to do more and to make things better for people and together they caused an entire nation to be formed.”
Gonzalez is passionate about communities working to do better, she says. “I feel like all is possible, especially with social media, and using it as a positive force. I think it’s possible and you can make any kind of change with a sense of community because one person makes a splash, but a community can make an entire ripple.”
Of course, Hamilton and being the #FearlessSquadMother isn’t the only thing that Gonzalez has on her plate right now: she’s also getting ready to head two weeks of shows at the famed Café Carlyle in New York City. “I don’t know if I’m the first Gonzalez to be, but I think I pretty much might be,” she laughs. “My parents worked very hard for me to be where I am today, and my grandparents worked hard so when I step into the Carlyle, I feel a complete sense of accomplishment because when I moved here it was one of the dream places to play because it was so elegant and so New York.”
(If any truly dedicated Hamilton fans are hoping to cast a glimpse of the cast at one of Gonzalez’s shows, she does reveal that they plan to be there … “when they have a [night] off,” of course.)
But if you’re hoping for any Angelica-style rapping on Fearless, you’d be better off trying to buy a ticket to the show. “I don’t think so. I’ll leave the rapping to Hamilton,” Gonzalez says, though she did confess that theater fans would get a treat, thanks to a duet between her and her In The Heights love interest (and Tony Award nominee) Chris Jackson.
“I knew that [“Life is Sweet”] was the song and I knew that I had to sing it with Chris Jackson,” Gonzales tells PEOPLE. “We’ve both been through so many things in life. He has two children now, and I was there when his first son was born. I was there when his daughter was born but now I have a child, and … we’ve grown up, so it’s nice for the fans to get to hear where we are now. Because so many people fell in love with that soundtrack and fell in love with us as a couple, so I think it’s nice for them to see that we’ve grown up with them.”
With all of that performing, recording and, of course, building the #FearlessSquad community, Gonzalez is truly embodying the message of her album. “It’s fearless. It is a lot to take on, but that’s what you come to New York for. That’s what you come to America for: opportunity.”
Fans looking for a little inspiration — and some magnificent high notes — should check out Gonzalez’s debut album Fearless when it’s released on Oct. 20. She’ll also be performing at the Café Carlyle from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4.