Interview: Anette Barrios-Torres Talks MY FAIR LADY at Orpheum Theater

Anette discusses taking on the iconic role of Eliza Doolittle in the musical theatre classic!

By: Nov. 29, 2023
Interview: Anette Barrios-Torres Talks MY FAIR LADY at Orpheum Theater

BroadwayWorld had an opportunity to chat with Anette Barrios-Torres, the star of MY FAIR LADY at the Orpheum Theater. Read excerpts from our chat below as Anette discusses taking on the iconic role of Eliza Doolittle in the musical theatre classic!

I would love for you to tell me a little bit about how you found yourself in the performing arts world .

My mom is a teacher and my dad‘s a detective, so they’re not necessarily in the performing world, but both are real lovers of art and supporters of the arts. I became really infatuated with old movies as a little kid. I loved black-and-white movies like World War II movies and golden age films. I figured that the closest I could get to being a part of one of those might be getting on stage, so I really tried to get into theater. I struggled at first because I was a really shy kid, but somehow stepping into a character instead of being myself on stage really unlocked this special thing in me that I didn’t know that I had. My very first audition was actually Wouldn’t It Be Lovely” from My Fair Lady. That was in middle school, and then I ended up going to New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida. I learned so much there. I was in an incredible program for four years and learned from some incredible people. They really just fostered this determination and love for what we do. I was so grateful to have had that so early on. I feel like it gave me a really strong springboard to go to college and work professionally.

Speaking of training, was there a teacher or professional in your life who really inspired you in your career?

Oh my gosh. Being the daughter of a teacher I have the upmost respect for anybody who is an educator. I tended to get very close to my teachers because I was so excited about what I could learn from them. Getting into college, the head of our program at Oklahoma City University, Dr. Herendeen, made such an massive impact on my life as a person and as an artist. He taught me a lot about how we respond as actors and singers, and about being a good person. That is something that is so important when it comes to stepping into audition rooms and things like that. The first thing that people tend to notice is who is walking in as opposed to how well can they play a character. It’s definitely both of those things that come together and sort of help make decisions about where we go next. He was the first person to invite me over when I had no one to see during Thanksgiving. He was just a really kind soul who’s really inspired so many people because he’s worked there for so many years.

Looking at the characters, you’ve played in your career so far, you’ve played such a wide variety of parts throughout the years. It’s such a wide spectrum of styles and characters. Has there been one role throughout your career, either professionally or even in your training, that really meant a lot to you?

This show is very special to me because My Fair Lady was that first film that I saw that made me want to do this. My heroes growing up were not everyone’s typical heroes as far as my generation goes. I was very much so looking up to Audrey Hepburn and Gene Kelly and Gregory Peck. So I was strange that way. Eliza feels like all of the things that I maybe have felt but haven’t been able to say. She’s given me this outlet to put a lot of my emotions out there. I just recently lost my partner, Nathan, and it has completely shaken my world. Now learning how to navigate my own feelings as a person and try to pour them into her every day has been a gift that I didn’t know it would be because of the timing of this. Thinking of it as a show and a character that was my hero growing up and that guided me through a lot of ups and downs as a kid… as somebody who is watching it now, it’s taken on this very new meaning as I get to step into her little boots every night. It’s been healing in its own way. So much of my still showing up has to do with his support and wanting to make him proud. And this role has been a dream of mine since I knew that theater existed.

Knowing that the show has been around for quite some time, whether in a film or live theatre format, it goes without saying that many people have a certain idea of who their Eliza is. How do you bring to life this character that so many people are familiar with and have attachments to while still maintaining your authenticity and originality as an artist?

You know it’s so daunting. Some of the most incredible and beloved actors and performers have stepped into this role. I take the responsibility so seriously. Everybody has their impression of who Eliza is when they walk into the theater, and my goal is to show them the same person, but how she might live through me. For me, Eliza at the beginning and Eliza at the end are very much the same person, but by the end has learned how to harness her anger and emotion and passion and channel it into words, which sometimes cut deeper than any knife could. I think that for me, Eliza spends the whole show searching for a home. At the very beginning she has already moved out of a very bad area and is being questioned as to why she is even in any slum above that. She says I have the right to be here same as you. She tries to move her way up, and while we think that’s impossible in today’s society, it was really impossible back in that time.

I would love to hear a little bit about your audition process for this production.

I think mine might’ve been a bit unique. I graduated for college in May. I did my showcase. I moved to New York shortly after. A week after showcase I was back in Miami and a music director that I’ve worked with before named David Andrew Rogers (Dar) reached out to me and let me know that they were looking for Eliza to go back out on the road later this year for the tour and that I popped into his head. He said he would love for me to audition, so I was sent this maybe 26 page packet of several songs and scenes. I was told that if I could put it together by that night to have it the next morning at 10 AM, that would be incredible. And I knew that it was not a requirement, and I knew that if I asked for more time they would give me more time, but that was so daunting and something I could not pass up. So I invited a friend over and I read everything and put everything on tape and I sent it. The next day I had a callback on Zoom with the two directors, a casting director and a couple other people. The following day I had a final callback on Zoom with the entire team including Bartlett Sher. So I actually booked Eliza in My Fair Lady on the national tour from my mom‘s house in Miami, Florida. Dar actually wasn’t in the final room and so it was all up to Bart at that point. I was so glad that I was able to get the opportunity to audition. And this is our third time working together now (me and Dar), after Carousel and Sound of Music. We are two peas in a pod and I’m so glad I get to work with someone like him because he is such a phenomenal leader.

What is it about My Fair Lady that keeps audiences coming back to see these different interpretations, or even just to see the same production multiple times?

I think when so many people think of My Fair Lady they are stuck in the idea that it’s misogynistic or they can only hold on to Henry Higgins insults. I think something that this production highlights really beautifully is Eliza‘s agency. It’s her decision to go to this man’s house and take him up on his offer. I think there’s a lot of beautiful things that have been done with the show without changing lines, but with just changing intentions with blocking. It has really made it feel like this is Eliza’s story and not Higgins story. As much as I do like Higgins, and the actor who plays him on our tour is fantastic, I think that’s how I saw it as a kid. I thought this woman was so determined that she went and got what she wanted. I used to read the play because I was a total nerd and I love Shaw, and I remember reading it and thought that this woman was incredible. There is nothing more feminist she could be doing in her time. I think that it’s been interesting to see the older people who come back and think they know the show and have definitely experienced the show a few times - those who are singing the songs and know the lines - and to see this generation that is probably a little bit closer to mine sometimes discovering it for the very first time or who are watching it for the first time since they were kid and seeing it in a very different way. It’s just been really fun to see how everybody responds.

Any final words or thoughts for those arts patrons who have yet to secure their tickets?

The beautiful thing about My Fair Lady is that it seems to be as relevant today as it was then, and maybe even more so in the last couple years. I think people who know the story will see it’s the same show they know and love, and people who are coming to it for the first time are also going to discover things that they didn’t know were in there. I think there are lots of surprises. The cast is delicious in every way, and I’ve never worked with people who are more thoughtful or generous, both onstage and offstage. It bleeds into the theater and I think there’s so much joy. I think people forget that this is a comedy. It’s really funny! I think that spending a few hours with us is a really exciting way to spend an afternoon or evening. We’d love to see you there.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus