Fresh out of college and ready to take on the world, Anette Barrios-Torres scored the lead role, starring as Eliza Doolittle in Broadway’s National Tour of the beloved classic My Fair Lady. Mere months into her post-grad career, Barrios-Torres has already solidified herself as an impeccable lead– and the accolade is not unwarranted. Born in Maimi, Florida, the Cuban-American actress has been in love with musical theater since she was a child. She left Florida to study at Oklahoma City University, graduating with a major in Musical Theater along with a minor in Spanish just this past May. A soprano with a glorious belt, her voice is trained to perfection, but what stood out the most was her kindhearted nature.
Throughout my conversation with Anette, she was transparent about the realities of being an actress, the challenges that come with being typecast, along with the beauty of getting to live out her dreams. She didn’t shy away from even the most vulnerable aspects of her life, but we had to start with the day she found out she was going to be Eliza Doolittle, “I was in my mom’s house in Miami, Florida. About a week after my final callback, I was all by myself. At the time I was waiting to hear back from something else.
“I didn’t think I was going to get [Eliza] by any means,” she continues, “because I graduated from college in May and I was aware of the fact that, I’m very young and this is a monster role, and I didn’t take any of that personally. I was so grateful for the experience and the opportunity to even have a few moments with the Lincoln Center director and the opportunity to work with the touring director and some callbacks and things like that.” When she did find out, the response was instant, “I think immediately I just started crying. As a little kid, this was my favorite movie and my favorite play. I read it like, a million times. Growing up. I used to collect different editions of Pygmalion by Shaw,” The original, non-musical play, “Which is super nerdy, but my mom and everybody who knew me growing up knew what the story meant to me.”
Eliza Doolittle is a massive role. For plenty of actors, Barrios-Torres included, Eliza is the role. The one they dream of playing, the one they fantasize getting cast as, doing such a standup job they make an already iconic role even more memorable. It’s a lot to live up to, “I was kind of excitedly aware that there had never been a Latina who played the role, and so that sort of became like, Oh my gosh, I really want to do that because no one’s done that. And I think stepping into a role that like Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews, Melissa Errico, Kelli O’Hara, you know some of the most beloved performers have played was daunting because everybody thinks they know who Eliza is.” She explains, “So how do you infuse some of yourself and also honor each one of their interpretations?”
Her casting was fairly unique. Born to a Cuban mother and Cuban/ Puerto Rican father, it would be impossible not to bring her culture to the show, “I’m sure there’s lots of moments that I’ve infused some of my cultural background.” Anette notes the parallel between Eliza’s narrative, learning how to change her accent to talk more posh, and Hispanic people trying to erase their own accents, “How many immigrants, how many families through the years have tried so hard to unlearn their accent to adopt a more American one, right? Speech patterns so that they fit in or how many people that are supposed to teach their children Spanish, don’t want them to speak Spanish at home because they don’t want their children to go through some of what they went through. I think there’s a really fascinating parallel between those two things.”
This way that Barrios-Torres views the world, not changing the narrative but infusing her own, impacts the overall role, “I’ve fallen in love with the idea that because people are going to take things in through their own lens. Your ethnicity, your culture is going to be a part of that anyway, right?” Anette brings up another role from her past that was elevated because of her casting, “I was in a production of The Sound of Music in the Lyric Theater of Oklahoma this past summer, where we did not change any of the dialogue. The only concept we sort of played with was the idea that if Maria was not White, how different would that need to get out of Germany be?” A note she credits the production’s brilliant director Jerome Stevenson with, “But it also came from the perspective of a Black man saying what sort of urgency would that put on this family if the person they loved most was in so much danger that they really needed to get out?”
This story literally gave me chills. Though her name may be Maria, it’s amazing how I never once considered her being Latina. That change, subtle but everpresent, put the entire story into a different context, “How many women have dedicated their lives to watching White children?” Barrios-Torres states, “We played with the pronunciation of Maria versus María,” she accents, “Things like that we were able to play with throughout the show so that once she was accepted into the family was when they started pronouncing her name properly.”
As someone who thrives in the Golden Age of Theater, Barrios-Torres has always found herself challenging those narratives, fighting Hollywood’s subtle discriminations, “It’s really easy to be typecast very quickly. You know, put in the Latino box, which was why I’m so proud of my culture. I’m so proud of my parents and my grandparents and everything that I’ve learned. I honor them with everything I do, I hope. But also, I felt like I needed to remove myself from the Latino box because those stories are so incredibly important, but they’re also not the only ones we can tell.”
When it comes to advice for any actors out there, Anette stresses to not be afraid of branching out from the expected, “I’ve done In The Heights three times!” She exclaims, “It becomes very easy for people to send you in for In The Heights, West Side Story, On Your Feet, which are amazing shows. But if you’re interested in branching out and doing something that maybe doesn’t have as much to do with your culture, [because] it’s going to intrinsically come through in you because you will be the one playing the role. For me, it was more like, I can’t wait to do Carousel and to do Sound of Music and to infuse some of myself in there as opposed to thinking, Oh, I’m limited.” It’s a tough line Barrios-Torres has walked for years, “And it’s not limiting to do Latin stories by any means. I love them and they are some of the things that have fed my soul.”
When Anette received the news that she was going to be portraying Eliza, she was thrilled. Scanning the cities they would be playing at, she hoped her hometown of Miami would be one of them. Instead, she found out the tour would be stopping at Bass Concert Hall, in Austin, Texas. A place that held some significance at the time, but that she now holds dear. The way Anette speaks, with so much excitement and passion, you’d never think she was in the midst of a truly devastating loss. Just as the National Tour was taking off, Anette’s partner of two years Nathan LeBlanc, her biggest champion and an actor himself, passed away. Nathan grew up in Texas, and even took an 8th grade trip from Belton to Austin, where he saw his first production at Bass Concert Hall. The show, and theater in general, had a huge impact on his life. It took him all the way to Oklahoma City University, where he met Anette. Together, they moved to New York City to follow their dreams.
Today, Anette feels honored to be able to play at the very same Concert Hall that he attended as a child. To inspire other children, just as he had been, “To me, that is the biggest gift that could have come out of this whole horrific thing. Because when the tour first started, I was really sad that they’d gone to Miami last year and I was like, Oh, I’m not going to get to play in the first place where things started for me…But the fact that we’re in Austin and I’m going to be with his family means so much. That’s beautiful.”
Nathan’s family has started a fund, which I encourage you to click here to donate and look further into, in his name to provide students in Belton and other areas with free tickets to see Broadway shows at Texas Performing Arts, “The fact that I’m able to perform where Nathan saw his first tours is the most special thing that I could have asked for. And it happens that the week that we’re going to be there, there’s this whole fund in his name now that is going to help to give back and support students from smaller school districts. They’re able to have access to touring shows like My Fair Lady and Six and all the shows that are coming, right? They might not have had that opportunity before to see this quality and this caliber of production in the closest place to their hometown. I know what it meant to me growing up. I can only imagine what it meant to him. And I think it’s the most beautiful way to honor his memory. I think he would be so overjoyed to know that that is what’s being done in his name I honestly don’t know what I would do without the show.”
The show has been Anette’s biggest outlet since receiving the news. Offering a safe space to scream and cry, and express all her emotions in the character of Eliza Doolittle. She leaves it all on the stage and is grateful for the opportunity to express herself so openly. The National Tour will take her to April 2024, so, what happens when it’s over? “After the show, I would love to hop onto another tour, but I’m trying to focus on things as they come, one at a time.” While theater has always been her home, she’s not afraid of branching into other forms of media, “I really love the world of film and TV. It was something I was so looking forward to auditioning for but since the strike has been going on for so long, that’s been put a bit on hold. I’m looking forward to what might happen in the future!”
Anette Barrios-Torres was a ray of sunshine. As impressively talented as she is emphatically kind. After our conversation, I was honored to see her as Eliza the last night they were in Austin, and even meet her in person afterward. Talking to her I knew she would be talented, but when she opened her mouth to serenade the audience in a legendary rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” I knew I was in the presence of true greatness. Look out for her, cause I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time we see Anette, she’ll be accepting a Tony for her latest role–and no one would be more deserving.