West Side Story: A Behind the Scenes Look

The curtains rose Wednesday, March 18, in the Santa Fe College Fine Arts Hall for the debut of SF’s first production of a Broadway musical, an initiative of President Jackson Sasser, who prompted the Fine Arts Department to make it a reality. All shows were sold out, in anticipation that did not go unfulfilled as the show was a hit. Valerie Torres, starring as Maria, particularly captured the hearts of the audience.

Valerie had not graced a stage for over a year and a half when she heard of the casting call. She just wanted to be in a show, longing to relive her involvement in the Performing Arts from earlier years, and didn’t have intentions of earning the leading role, which she describes as one the greatest blessings in her life. She was overwhelmed to feed her passion for the arts, and consequently help the Santa Fe College Fine Arts program take this monumental, historic step.

Valerie was very modest in response to the praise from show-goers who likened her to Natalie Wood of the 1961 film version of the production and charged her with stealing the show! Valerie was flattered but believes every actor is important and contributes to the atmosphere that “will carry the plot along.” To her, West Side Story encompasses much more than one person or role, and requires a group effort to pull it off.  Her goal in the production was to draw reality and relatability to make sure Maria was a tangible character by making sure the romance was not “over-done.”

Valerie largely credits the success of the show to her fellow cast members whose efforts and dedication were “the strength we found in each other.” That coupled with the fact that West Side Story is such a classic musical that draws many audiences is what she found to make the show so successful. She would not change a thing, except to maybe add another weekend of shows. One big family is what was found backstage, regardless of experience or background.

The West Side Story experience was so life changing for Valerie that she found answers to prayers and was enlightened on where her true passion lies; she took a leap of faith from her pre-med tracking at the University of Florida into the BFA Musical Theatre Program. She received news of her acceptance into the program Thursday before opening. No longer afraid of the starving artist she described that used to loom over her shoulder, when asked where she sees herself in the future, the response is, “Broadway, hopefully. Ha-ha. Fingers crossed!”

Valerie was thankful to take much knowledge that she will carry through her career, specifically from the mentoring of Evans Haile, Evan Pappas, Lynn Sandefur, and Sarah Harkness-Sebastian, who she holds much respect and gratitude for.

In tribute to these and the cast members, Valerie said, “All of these individuals have touched my life and I hold them dear to my heart.”  And to the audience, fans, and supporters, “My hope is that everyone left enlightened and arrived home with something new.”