The journey to performing under the bright lights of Broadway usually begins with an audition.
For University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point bachelor of fine arts acting alumnus Felix Torrez-Ponce, Green Bay, that audition happened last spring while he was a student in the university’s Senior Showcase course.
The class led to an opportunity to meet with representatives from LG Talent Management in New York City. He was signed, which led to an audition for the Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” starring Tony Award-nominee Josh Groban and Tony Award-winner Annaleigh Ashford.
Torrez-Ponce made his Broadway debut, cast as a member of the ensemble and understudy for two roles, as the show opened officially March 26 in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City.
“It’s so surreal,” he said. “This was not the path I saw for myself.”
The Senior Showcase course that led him to a role on Broadway is part of UW-Stevens Point’s Department of Theatre and Dance BFA acting and musical theatre curriculum. The semester-long course teaches students how to be working actors, from preparing audition materials to managing money. It culminates with auditions in front of leading agents and casting directors, who offer feedback and advice.
“The Senior Showcase is a powerful experience for our graduates,” said Professor Tyler Marchant, theatre. “The opportunity is tailor-made to make this difficult process seem possible and help spread the word of the talent that UW-Stevens Point is cultivating.”
Torrez-Ponce credits his successful audition with LG to one of his early lessons at UW-Stevens Point: how to enter a room and make a good first impression.
“That’s a huge part of auditions,” he said. “It’s about how you showcase yourself and what energy you bring.”
Torrez-Ponce was acting in a production of “A Christmas Carol” at The Denver Center in early December when he got the call that he was cast in “Sweeney Todd” and would need to move to New York City.
He is among the six members of the cast that are making their Broadway debut. For some that may be intimidating, but he said, “When you step into the room you have to let go of your insecurities, be present and focus on the task at hand.”
His daily routine during show previews, which began Feb. 26, included rehearsals from noon to 5 p.m., then dinner and a performance at 8 p.m. Now that the show has begun its full run, Torrez-Ponce is also rehearsing for his understudy roles of Anthony and Tobias. The cast has Monday and Tuesday off, then performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday with 2 p.m. matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
He’s enjoying the show’s “beautiful score and cool choreography.” The best part of the experience is watching his fellow cast members work, he said. “I’m in a room with incredibly talented people and I’m just taking it all in.”
As the demon barber, “Josh does it so well,” he said. “As a person, he’s a sweet guy, but he dives into this role. And watching Annaleigh Ashford is like taking a masterclass.”
Torrez-Ponce won’t soon forget performing on stage for the first preview. “It was crazy to hear everybody cheering. The houses on Broadway are large, but intimate. I could feel the energy of the people in the audience.”
He credits his UW-Stevens Point mentors, including Marchant, acting and directing, and Assistant Professor Luke Shepherd, musical theatre, for preparing him for his career and helping him see himself as both an actor and singer. At UW-Stevens Point he was The Baker in the musical “Into the Woods” and acted in “As We Climb” and “Clown Bar.”
“The skills our students develop are based on their passions,” said Marchant. “We cast them in shows based on their talent, not their major. Felix is the perfect example of listening to what students need and supporting that.”
For fellow Pointers looking to follow in his footsteps, Torrez-Ponce’s advice is to try for roles in everything.
“Sweeney Todd wasn’t something I thought I’d do. You never know, you may be the perfect fit for a role. Send in your auditions, just do it.”
When in a show, “be a fly on the wall,” he said. “Take in everything and be present. A lot of cool things happen in those rehearsal rooms. It’s one of the best parts of being an actor.”
What’s next for Torrez-Ponce? “Sweeney Todd” will keep him busy for a while, and he hopes to continue to act in New York.
“I’m already in my dream job,” he said. “I feel like I found my way here and I want to stay, do good work and try to be a part of this community.”