The choral music department at Westlake High School in Westlake Village takes pride in the alumni who have applied the school’s teachings and found success elsewhere.
Catherine Ricafort of Thousand Oaks is one of those alums. Ricafort, 24, left an industrial engineering degree behind in Los Angeles to make it big on Broadway.
After years of sleeping on couches and waiting on countless audition lines, Ricafort is now starring in the show "Mamma Mia" in New York City.
Her life plays out like a script for the NBC show, "Smash" – but hers is real.
A Real Life Smash
Ricafort is living out a philosophy she learned in high school under the tutelage of Westlake HS choir director Alan Rose.
"I believe that kids in this program get whatever area out of the theatre they want to learn, but they also have to learn what it is about being a real human being,” said Rose, 56. “And no matter what you feel, if it's something you want, you go for it.”
Ricafort cherished her time in high school choir, she said.
"It taught me that, while performing can be a hard and competitive thing, it really is a big sense of family where people support each other and that is very important in this industry because it is very tough and competitive and personal and emotional," Ricafort said during an interview with NBCLA in New York City.
Rose took over the department at Westlake 27 years ago. He began the program with 13 students. It now includes well over 200 students.
"I was the first tenor alto but when you talk as much as me, you sort of blow your voice out. Sit down. Sing out," he said with a hearty laugh.
Rose is intense and calls them like he sees them, but only because he is so invested in "his" kids' present and future.
"I love my kids, my students, as much as I could without being my own blood. I mean I have been honored to give two of them away as a father, because they had no father,” Rose said. “I actually walked them down the aisle.”
His current students appreciate what they call his "Roseisms," or lessons they have learned that extend beyond musical technique.
"He teaches us to be responsible, to take leadership, to be on time,” said senior Jessica Evaristo. “I think you can take those pretty much anywhere.”
Others are inspired by former students, like Ricafort, who are achieving in music careers.
Michael Mancuso is senior and has been trying out for music departments at universities and colleges across the country. Ricafort graduated from the University of Southern California in 2009 with an industrial engineering degree and a minor in musical theater.
"She came through here and right now I am following in her footsteps,” Mancuso said. “That feels good.”
Rose's program has the backing of the famous, singing Carpenter family. Rose said they helped fund the school's new high-tech auditorium and sent several children through his program.
Many alumni return to help the program.
When NBCLA attended a recent rehearsal, one parent whose child graduated several years ago was assisting with the current students' outfits. Another former student was running the light and sound board for the practice and upcoming shows.
Rose said he plans to retire in 2017 when he is 61 1/2 and still "passionate about my kids."
Meanwhile Catherine is living out her dreams in New York City and those at Westlake High School remain encouraged about what is yet to come.