Broadway actress and singer Natalie Toro reflects on growing up in the Bronx and her professional journey. During Puerto Rican Heritage Month in November, I had the pleasure of listening to Toro sing and to hear a little of her story at an event in the Bronx. Toro recently spoke with Puerto Rico Sun about her mom, her Broadway career and her new CD.
Q: Please tell me a little about you. Where do you live?
A: I live in Manhattan on the Upper West Side.
Q: You recently were honored during the Bronx Puerto Rican Heritage Month celebration. What does having that honor mean to you?
A: Being in this business, being a woman and being a Latina, makes it difficult to achieve certain things because you are always judged by the color of your skin and ethnicity. But in the theater, you can go beyond the color of your skin. You have to think outside the box, but I never forget where I come from and what my family (especially my mom) had to go through to help me realize my dream. And being honored because I realized my dream is a double honor. I am a very proud Puerto Rican, and I let everyone know it.
Q: Please share a little about your Bronx experience. What was the best and worst part about growing up in the Bronx for you?
A: Because I am a "dreamer," I don't think I live in most people's realities. Since I always find the "positive" in almost everything, I found the Bronx to be a very positive environment. I started to take the subway, the number 2, at a very young age. I became very independent and since I love people, I would be the one smiling at everyone even though I would always hear that sometimes smiling at the wrong person can get your killed! I never adhered to that warning, so I had a wonderful time growing up. Also I think since I grew up in apartments, it would be very hard to move into a house. LOL
Q: You mentioned that your mom named you after Natalie Wood. What does that mean to you? Are you a fan of Natalie Wood?
A: Well, my mom looked like Natalie Wood and just as beautiful. I remember just staring at her all the time. And since my absolute favorite musical is "West Side Story," I became an instant fan of Natalie Wood. And since my mom didn't give me a middle name, I feel just as special as Natalie Wood changing her name.
Q: Your mom seems to have played an instrumental role in your career and keeping you focused early on. You have said that after your big performance at the age of 5 at the Apollo, she enrolled you at the†Manhattan School of Music, which started it all for you. Could you please elaborate on this?
A: Manhattan School of Music is a private college that has a preparatory division for children on Saturdays. I went for 10 years since I was eight years old. I studied piano, voice and music theory. I got my first taste of big production values when I was in the cast in the operas there. I was around children that excelled in music. I participated in Concerto competitions, which to this day, kind of flips me out that I was able to do that.
Q: In your professional career, what are you proudest of so far and why?
A: My opening of "Les Miserables" on Broadway. That was my way of feeling "I've made it." I held on to the role of Eponine for three years. I remember fans writing me and telling me how much I've changed their lives. From then on, I realized how much I do affects people when I sing and perform, and I never take that for granted. My motto is that if I can change one person's life, then I did my job! The other thing I am most proud of is my new CD. I produced it myself with the help of a friend.
Q: What has been the hardest, most challenging part of your career and why?
A: The most challenging is being seen to audition for something you feel in your gut your are right for and can't get an appointment because of politics or just that your timing is off or the people in power don't feel like you are right. But I have an amazing agent now and they will work their tail off to get me in an appointment.
Q: You recently had a CD release party. Tell me a little about your CD and what it is about. Where could people purchase it?
A: My new CD is awesome! It's pure Broadway music and a little more but with a twist. I wanted something different not just the ordinary Broadway CD. I hired seven different arrangers and had meetings with them about how I heard whatever song they were going to do. They took my ideas and went off to write some of the most beautiful arrangements I have ever heard. I had a small budget and with that, I hired some very talented musicians. I recorded the CD right here in the heart of Manhattan. It just was released on November 23rd to a crowd of 150. I sang about eight of the tracks and people seem to love it.
I was able to show off a part of my voice that many people don't get to hear often because I am considered a "belter." So there are many beautiful acoustic songs that make me happy. There is a NY number with a NY flair and beat. It's really cool. Anyone that wants to purchase one can go on my website at www.natalietoro.com and click on CDs or go direct to www.cdbaby.com.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I am focusing on promoting the new CD. Since the release party was so successful, I have to start to book myself into venues to sing some tracks to get the word out. Since I am my own company, this will be a challenge. But I am confident that with my Broadway status and the quality of the CD, that I will be able to let people know about it. Fans are amazing and they are very dedicated. When I meet a new fan, I give them the personal attention as if I were meeting a new friend. They are making me feel special and I want them to feel special as well. I am also now available for concerts, which I do in between Broadway gigs. I sing for private parties and corporate events as well as solo concerts in various halls around the country.
Q: Please tell me anything else I didn't ask that you'd like to share.
A: I think it's important for me to tell young kids or anyone that wants to get into this business, from the Bronx or anywhere else to first get your education. Go to school and involve yourself in any type of the arts that interest you. You may not get paid, but the experience is worth gold. And you never know who you might meet in the process that will give you your first professional job. I did four years at a Conservatory and it paid off.
To listen to Natalie Toro’s music or for more information about this empowering Latina, go to www.natalietoro.com. – Clarisel Gonzalez
(Photo by Clarisel Gonzalez of Natalie Toro performing at the Bronx Puerto Rican Heritage Month celebration last month; photo of the cover of Natalie Toro's new CD)