Student tours with West Side Story

Ulla (Carolina Sanchez) and Leo Bloom (Greg Clark) show off their dancing skills during Rider’s production of The Producers last April. Sanchez is currently touring the country with West Side Story.

This story was revised on Oct. 16, 2012, to correct a mistake which is explained at the end.

By Janeen Rodgers

Carolina Sanchez, a former Rider student who would have been a senior musical theater major this year, has gone from the Yvonne Theater to stages all over the country. After auditioning for the lead role of Maria in West Side Story, Sanchez was called back to play Rosalia and to be an understudy for Maria in a tour produced by Troika Entertainment — an opportunity that many actors only dream of.

Last fall Sanchez played Ulla, the female lead in Rider’s rendition of The Producers, and now her talents are extending beyond Lawrenceville.

According to Mariann Cook, professor of music theater voice, when Sanchez started at Rider three years ago she didn’t have much experience.

“[Carolina] was very green when it came down to her musical experience,” Cook said. “However, she had a deep love for [theater] and was a fast learner. Her gregariousness will help her go further.”

Cook helped Sanchez prepare for the audition, which led to her casting.

Samantha Rusnak, a junior with a double major in elementary education and music, said connections are what matter in the acting business.

“They say ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’” Rusnak said.

In Sanchez’s case, her connection was professor of dance Robin Lewis. He stuck his neck out there by calling up a casting agent and saying, “I have this girl here who can act and sing. Would you be willing to see her?”

Professor Mariann Cook and Carolina Sanchez take a break from practicing to pose for a picture. Sanchez says Cook mentored her and helped prepare her for auditions.

Even though the casting directors had already seen all of the female auditions, they allowed Sanchez to show up for the male ones. She needed to try out more than once, but eventually she got the call she was waiting for.

“Our job here at the school is to guide the students in the direction of their career paths and help them with that networking,” Lewis said.

Since being cast, Sanchez’s schedule has changed drastically. Putting on a production at Rider takes about two to three months, but with West Side Story, the schedule is expedited and everything needs to be done within two to three weeks

“Tuesday through Sunday we work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. [and] Monday is my only day off,” Sanchez said. “You have to also think about [the fact] that when in school we have classes to deal with [and] studying to do. While on tour, all we do is tour and rehearse and all things related to the production.”

According to Sanchez, the time restraint isn’t a problem.

“The fast pace of things isn’t what bothers me because the director and all the people involved with Troika Entertainment treat us in a way where everybody ends up happy,” she said.

Sanchez’s talent has left a strong impression on many Rider students.

“Rosalia was a great role for her because of her natural ability to be funny,” Madeline Calandrillo, a senior theater performance major, said. “She’s also a great mover.”

Sanchez fits the role musically as well, according to junior musical theater and musical education major Samantha Ferrara.

“She is perfect in terms of [Rosalia’s] type,” Ferrara said. “Her vocal range is magnificent.”

Sanchez credits Rider’s professors with helping develop her from an inexperienced beginner into a performer.

According to Dr. Nathan Hurwitz, an assistant professor in the department of theater and dance, who has directed Sanchez before, she would not have come so far if it wasn’t for her work ethic.

“[Carolina] is a terrific student and a hard worker,” Hurwitz said. “She has to go out there and do about 32 hours a week, and here it takes a minimum of five weeks — evenings and weekends. She landed herself a good job, she worked hard to get it and she’s working hard to execute it,” he said.

Through all of the changes in her life, Sanchez is certain of one thing: coming back to Rider to finish her degree after the tour is over.

Lewis said Sanchez’s bright future was obvious, otherwise the faculty wouldn’t have advised her to take time off from school.

“We would not have let her go if we didn’t think that this was a good opportunity for her,” Goldberg said. “There is someone who already wants to be her agent and is willing to wait until she has graduated. We know she’s going to do it.

With a strong support system consisting of her mother, who cried when she heard the good news and already has her ticket to fly out to the first show, her father and professors, there is no doubt Sanchez has people who believe in her talent.

The first tour stop for West Side Story is Ashland, Ky, on Oct. 25 and 26 at Paramount Arts Center.


Robin Lewis was erroneously called “Lewis Goldberg” in the fourth paragraph from the bottom.

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