I’m always impressed by someone’s journey in life, regardless of their background. That can definitely be said about actors and actresses who make it to the bright lights of Broadway, with one in particular about the amazingly talented Catherine Ricafort. She has a slew of hits under her belt already, including “Cinderella”, “Allegiance” and is now onto her next big role in “Holiday Inn, The Musical” at the Roundabout Theatre. We were lucky enough to sit down with this rising star and get to know all about her.
Catherine tells us all about her journey to Broadway, from her all nighters at USC in California, how she got to Manhattan and into the showbiz world, her frank take on the lack of diversity in the entertainment world, and her role in “Holiday Inn, The Musical”. Take a look!
In doing my research on you, you went to USC and majored in engineering yet minored in musical theatre. What originally made you do that?
So as many people feel when they graduate high school, they don’t actually know what they want to do. I knew I loved to perform, but I was actually feeling at the time, unlike I am now, very practical minded and future planning. I wanted to find a career that was very stable, and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my dad. He is an engineer as well, a quality engineer, and I always admired what he did.
So, I chose USC because they are a school that embraces the Renaissance ideal, which is doing things that aren’t necessarily related but they can complement each other. I knew that no matter what I was doing, my focus being in engineering, that I was going to perform so that is why I chose that school. I would spend all of my daytime in class and starting around 6 or 7PM after scarfing down a really quick dinner I would be rehearsing from 7PM to midnight, sometimes 1AM because college kids are crazy. It was the only time that everybody was free, and these rehearsals were actually mostly for student run companies.
I was involved in their Acapella group, which was where I really found my voice as a soloist and then I would also dance at the USC Repertory Dance Company, where we didn’t even have a dance major, only a minor. So, I did that and then I would study after 1AM, go to sleep around 4AM, wake up around 7AM. I found juggling it all very exciting, it only made me more excited to do the other activity when I was working on the other. So I had a great time doing that. That is why I chose to do it, also I have a cousin who went to MIT for computer science but was also a professional Latin ballroom dancer, so I am sure that had to do with following their steps.
You grew up in Arizona, then obviously went to college in California. What inspired you to move to the Big Apple?
It’s so funny. I actually was not brave enough to tell myself, “Hey, I’m going to move to New York to be an actor, and I am going to do that scary thing with no idea, no connections with how to get in and break into the business”. I moved here because I finished my degree, my undergrad, and I had started applying for jobs. I was working on my masters at the time as well, we had this program at USC where you can start your masters in your 4th year, and I was looking at apartments for where to live during the 5th year where I was going to complete my masters.
I wasn’t feeling living in California anymore, my family lives close to USC, and I felt I wanted to get away and grow up a bit. I never got the chance to study abroad because I was always so busy and tied to the campus with all the student groups that I was participating in. So I actually moved to New York to kind of give myself a study abroad so I can work on my master’s courses in engineering management from a distance, because they just launched the business education network where you could take the classes online but it is still a full degree from USC. And so, I mostly lived here in New York to force myself to get away from home, do my own laundry, and grow up and be an adult. And at the same time, start auditioning, but I wasn’t brave enough to move here only for that.
I’m guessing that worked out for you!
It actually worked out great. As I was auditioning, I would have to line up at six in the morning to get in there because I didn’t have an agent to get me an appointment, I didn’t have an equity card to skip the line. I would just spend all that time studying for class and also talking to people and understanding how you break into the scene of New York. I was pleasantly surprised to find that actors are very warm and a helpful community. Girls that I was in line auditioning against would give me helpful tips about where to hang out for three hours and charge my phone, how you should go to the public library at Lincoln Center because they have a lot of performances on film and how to sign up for that. It was actually really nice, so I didn’t end up finishing my masters because I got “The Chorus Line” tour a couple of months after I moved here. I took that as a sign that it is my calling to do performing arts full time, and that’s that.
You’ve done a lot of big shows so far for someone who hasn’t been in the Broadway game that long. Do you have a particular show that you love the most?
My favorite show that I did is “Honeymoon in Vegas”. That was a show composed by Jason Robert Brown, who I have been a fan of since I was in high school and it was great to work with him and teach us fresh music off the page that no one has ever heard of. Not only that, I got to create a role which is something that has been a dream of mine since I first got into this business. The thing that fellow actors really respect is that, not that it is the biggest show like “Wicked”, but it is being part of new projects and creating a new role. You are influencing how lines are written and coming up with bits to make the audience laugh.
I loved Honeymoon in Vegas because I got to create this role called Mahi, who is this funny Hawaiian tour guide, or so she shows us. She is actually a henchmen working for the Tony Danza character, so she is kind of a bad guy and a good guy. I have this hilarious solo which is inspired by a line that Pat Morita, who played the role in the movie, they changed the role to the women for the musical, he improvised this line and it turned into a song. It was fun because it was a solo, and since the show was being created, it was tailor made for my skills and what I like to call a “triple threat” which is being able to sing, dance and act at the same time and I got to do all of those things in the number. I got to come up with ideas for the choreography, so that was a really precious role because I got to make the audience laugh night after night, and that is a feeling I will never forget.
Even though The Tony Awards were very diverse, the overall entertainment scene is still severely lacking in diversity, especially in the Asian community. What is your honest take on this?
As an Asian actor, I have definitely faced a lot of frustrations with the idea of diversity in entertainment. Even in this past season where people were celebrating diversity at The Tony’s, there are still colors in between that are not celebrated for what they really are and they often appear as side characters who are extremely caricatured. It is a very delicate thing. I had to learn how to develop an accent, because I didn’t grow up with one, but I had found myself in situations where I need to use it.
It is very tricky, but rather than just complaining about it, I want to use this opportunity to ask people of other colors to write and create, because I think it has the change has to come from “behind the table” too. Not just from the actor’s side, because there is a lot of influential decisions in a project or script or whatever that happen before actors even get a chance to influence the show at all. A lot of times we are written into a trap, so the more diverse the people are on the creative team, the more diverse the shows are going to become. You can have a revival of this so and so show like “The Music Man”, and you are going to make a case for it to be diverse but you aren’t going to find stories of what diversity is today, so, yeah. I get very excited and encourage all my friends at taking a stab and writing and creating their own stories.
Holiday Inn: The Musical just opened a week ago! Tell me how you got involved in this production.
So, I was invited to audition through my agent, but the great thing is that I already worked with this choreographer before. I am very happy for him, because the first time that I worked with him it was for “Honeymoon in Vegas”, which was his first show. That was my first time that I got to see choreography being changed and coming up with, and adapted as we would test it in front of audiences and I was very close with him because he worked with me on my solos. I think he is a creative genius and has a lot of ideas that haven’t been seen on Broadway before. This show, unlike a lot of shows now, is very entrenched in the “old fashioned musical” tropes where it is like “Hey kids, let’s put on a show”, and it is literally about a show. So, as a choreographer, that is your dream. You don’t have to couch the dance and hide it under layers of story, you can still tell the story but don’t hide the fact that you are dancing.
There was a bunch of rounds for auditions because the cast has to be able to do a lot of things. Not only do we dance with a foundation in ballet and jazz, but we also have to tap dance and tap dance while juggling or jump roping. It is a lot of things! It took them a few rounds to find people who can do all of that, and not just that but be able to sing and sing different parts and read music really well because we a score that has been revamped to include a lot of different harmonies and extensions of the original music. There is no group of pit singers doing the singing for us, we are singing when we are being thrown upside down or juggling in our tap shoes, and not only that we have to find people to understudy.
In this show, I am understudying a “triple threat” role named Lila Dixon, and she starts off as the original love interest but then diverging from the men because her first love is show business. So it is a really fun part to cover, and she gets to tap dance, she gets to jazz dance and sing and be funny but also has some really heartfelt moments. I am really excited to be part of this company and offer so many things to it. When you watch the show, I can see some people’s faces crying with joy at the end of one of our biggest numbers “Shaking The Blues Away”, because it is so beautiful and something you have never seen before.
To end things, what is your favorite restaurant here in Manhattan and why?
I really like Baracca, I think it is in the West Village. It is tapas, which I have never had before, and they have happy hour, where you can get Gambas with garlic sauce and so many other amazing things all for five bucks!