Thousand Oaks' Real-Life "Smash" Story - NBC Southern California

Thousand Oaks' Real-Life "Smash" Story

From USC to Broadway, Catherine Ricafort made her dream come true



    A Real Life Smash

    In the real world of Broadway stardom, it takes a few breaks, some talent, and a lot of determination to make it. Catherine Ricafort has all three. (Published Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012)

    The NBC show "Smash" describes the drama and difficulties about making it on the Great White Way. Catherine Ricafort of Thousand Oaks knows this all too well.

    NBCLA followed her real-life journey from Los Angeles to New York City. Ricafort, 24, now stars as Ali in the Broadway show, "Mamma Mia."

    "Whenever I look around at all of the marquees of all of the Broadway shows I have grown up watching and listening to, I just can't believe that I am a part of this whole Broadway community," Ricafort told NBCLA during an interview in the middle of New York City's Times Square.

    Ricafort left a college degree, the comforts of home, everything she knew behind in Los Angeles to chase her dream.

    Making it on Broadway has not been easy. Before getting her apartment in the Queens neighborhood, Astoria – or as Catherine calls it "Actoria" because of all of the actors and actresses who live in that area – she describes renting out couches across the city and relying on the generosity of family friends.

    "It was pretty tough. I was living out of one suitcase," Ricafort said. "The competition is really stiff. You just have to have enough belief in yourself, even on the toughest days."

    If a script could have been written about her journey, it would be very similar to "Smash," where two young women compete for a role as Marilyn Monroe. The show stars former American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee, from Sherman Oaks, and Megan Hilty, a Broadway veteran.

    Catherine said she often arrived at auditions at 5 a.m. only to wait in line all day and never be called. But Ricafort insisted it was all worth it to be on a Broadway stage.

    "Sometimes I'm scared. Sometimes I excited. It's usually a mix of both. More than anything it's a rush because it's what I love to do," Ricafort said.

    Ricafort, a native of the Philippines, has been singing, dancing and modeling since she was three years old.

    "She loves the spotlight from the very beginning," Carmencita and Ron Ricafort, Catherine's parents, told NBCLA in an interview from the family's home in Thousand Oaks. The Ricaforts said the love of music is in the blood.

    "She grew up in a house where we would burst into songs and my brother was a composer and playwright and musician and he claims the talent came from him," Carmencita added with a laugh.

    When the ever-studious Catherine decided to put her master’s studies in industrial engineering at the University of Southern California on hold to move to New York, her parents never faltered. They made a deal with her.
    As long as she pursued her studies in engineering, they would support her dream. Catherine graduated from USC in 2009 with a degree in Industrial and Systems engineering, and a minor in Musical Theatre.

    She had been trying out for parts across Los Angeles in the evenings while pursuing an engineering internship by day before her move to New York.

    "She's going to be very far by herself. (Our little baby girl you know how fathers are) We knew that this is what she wanted to do," the Ricaforts said.

    Catherine's Westlake High School choir director, Alan Rose, knew early on the soprano was destined for something more.

    "I wasn't surprised. Because she has the talent; she has the skill; she has the drive," said Rose, who has been at the helm of the school's choir program for 27 years.

    That drive was no more evident than in the ups and downs since her college graduation.

    Catherine landed a starring role on the national tour of "A Chorus Line" and a spot in NBC's "The Sing Off" with fellow alums from her college a cappella group. There was also a debilitating ankle injury.

    "I was supposed to go and work for Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas. I was essentially let go on my first day after moving there because I was injured," Ricafort said.

    Upset and with no real job, she received a call on Dec. 30 about a long-forgotten audition. Catherine called it a late Christmas gift and described her family screaming and yelling excitedly about the opportunity.

    Her goal had been to make it on Broadway by age 30. Being on here now she said: "Sometimes I have the temptation to tap dance down 42nd Street."

    No one could fault her – it is, after all, her Broadway dream come true. And Catherine Ricafort is still dreaming.

    She would love to pursue a pop music career and maybe one day record her own album.

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