TAMPA — It was a pure accident.
Fifteen years ago, Alonso High School sophomore Jose Rosario Jr., his saxophone in tow, was headed to band practice. He walked in the wrong auditorium door and happened upon a theatre rehearsal.
"I saw a bunch of people singing and dancing on stage, a bunch of ladies, girls … and I was like, ‘Wow!’" Rosario said with a laugh. "But this became way more than just girls. I saw a bunch of talented kids really making something special on stage. I thought I could do it. So I answered the next audition.’’
And the rest is history.
"Remarkable history,’’ Alonso theatre teacher Lisa Vorreiter said.
In January, Vorreiter went to Chicago for the Broadway-level production of Hamilton, one of the all-time smash hits. Rosario, her former student, was in the cast.
"I don’t think things like this happen … ever,’’ Vorreiter said. "It’s so special. But that’s Jose. He’s special.
"There’s a point when Jose did, It’s Quiet Uptown, (a song from Hamilton). Hamilton is estranged from his wife. His son has died. It’s a turning point for his character. Jose did it beautifully. He literally broke down on stage. It broke my heart in a beautiful way.’’
Vorreiter remembers the first time Rosario auditioned at Alonso.
"A few girls in the room started to cry,’’ Vorreiter said. "I’m not even kidding. They were trembling. They said, ‘He sings so beautifully.’
"He has humility, just an honesty in his performance. He has the talent to back it up. He had these qualities from the first time I met him.’’
That’s how Rosario quickly became Alonso’s go-to actor, portraying Jesus in Godspell and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. It’s how he excelled when leaving after just one year at the University of South Florida, performing at theme parks, on cruise ships and overseas. And it’s how he assimilated back into American theatre, first playing Emilio Estefan (Gloria’s husband) in On Your Feet, and now Hamilton.
"It was the first time I was about to go on stage as Hamilton and you go through the feelings of what brought you here,’’ said Rosario, 30, who graduated from Alonso in 2006. "I had these feelings of gratitude. I thought of Alonso, being on that stage. I thought about 6299 (the number of Alonso’s Thespian Troupe).
"It all flooded back. I’m just a kid from Alonso, Tampa, the 813. If I didn’t have that time on stage at Alonso, where would I be? It’s crazy. I’m so grateful. But I can’t deny it. What’s happening to me now, it’s so, so cool.’’
Way back when, Rosario said he had confidence in his voice because he sang in church. He was a talented musician, playing multiple instruments.
But performing on stage? A professional actor?
He never imagined it.
Until he began.
"She (Vorreiter) used the talents that she saw in me and brought them out, kind of fine tuned them,’’ said Rosario, whose voice is a mix of baritone and tenor. "She allowed me to have a safe space on stage and we did trial and error.
"I would emote, try to act out a song in a different way. Sometimes, I would crash and burn. Sometimes, I would hit it on the money. She would be like, ‘OK, hang onto that, now add this.’ She cultivated my performance and definitely brought out things I didn’t know I had.’’
Vorreiter said she knew there was something amazing about Rosario.
In his senior year, Rosario was one of five Alonso students selected for a state festival. Another girl, who desperately wanted to go, wasn’t picked. Rosario asked if he could give up his spot, so the girl could go in his place.
"It’s not like Jose rolled through Alonso saying, ‘I’m going to become a star on Broadway,’" Vorreiter said. "It wasn’t like that at all. And that’s what makes all of this even more special.
"Jose has really done only two Broadway-type productions in his life — On Your Feet and Hamilton — so to be where he is right now is stunning, just amazing. Plenty of people came through Alonso and are doing amazing things, professional athletes, all kinds of different fields. Jose is now up there at the top. And really, he’s just getting started.’’
Rosario wants to continue at the Broadway level, but he’s also intrigued by television and film.
"It has been beautiful, but it’s also nonstop,’’ Rosario said. "I have gotten to see a lot of the world, but there’s a price for that at times. You give up a lot of birthdays, a lot of babies being born, a lot of weddings, a lot of family things. You would be there, of course, but you’re across the world.
"I don’t know what’s in store for my 30s, but if it’s anything like the last 10 years, I better buckle up. I would love to keep growing and sharing. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I never want to forget where I come from. The things she (Vorreiter) taught me at Alonso, I still think of them on stage today. The whole thing is amazing.’’
An amazing accident.
Contact Joey Johnston at [email protected]