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My B’way Story Winner: Cristina Baptista

My Broadway Story

Broadway has a unique way of changing the lives of those who take part in its magic, whether it's on stage, behind the scenes, or in the audience. It could be the excitement of booking a ticket and the anticipation of entering a prestigious theater in Times Square. Maybe it’s the rush of singing and dancing beneath the Broadway stage lights and the satisfaction of pouring your heart and soul into a performance. Everyone who has experienced Broadway has a story to tell.

Over the last several months, we’ve been collecting and sharing your stories as a part of the “My B’way Story” contest to highlight individuals who have been changed by Broadway. After reading hundreds of inspiring essays, we are excited to announce our winner.

Congratulations to My B’way Story Winner: Cristina Baptista!

Read her story below:

No one tells you how to mourn the living. It sounds like a dream—finding “a place where no one’s lost.” Perhaps that is why, at the right time in my life, one initial foray to Broadway impaled my senses, shook me awake, and kept me seeking my own version of a “Castle on a Cloud.”

I was 18 when I saw my first Broadway show — Les Misérables. It was the year my father left.

I knew the story and the music. I had seen film interpretations of Victor Hugo’s epic work and sung songs from the musical adaptation in the middle school choir. Mostly, I knew Hugo’s lengthy novel, having devoured it in high school.

I’d always been a lonely child, more in love with fictional characters who would not reject me than with anyone in reality. Perhaps the only real person I really loved deeply was my father. So, when he moved to Portugal the year I began college, it was a double-shock—of beginning on my own away from home but, also, an ocean away from the man who reminded me to “be strong” and to “have faith.” Freshman year of college was a whirlwind of newness, and my first trip into nearby New York City explicitly to see a Broadway show was a necessary retreat. Les Miz was still in its original Broadway run. Even from the rear mezzanine of the Imperial Theatre, the energy and electricity hooked me. Every person moved as a single part of an elaborate organism and I realized how live theatre was merely microcosmic for the world beyond the stage.

What happens to the child left behind? Cosette’s life after Fantine’s death unfolded before me as an eerie echo of my feelings: abandoned, thrust into a new environment, an intrepid traveler with eyes opening to harsh realities at every turn. But I was also Jean Valjean: flawed yet hopeful, sometimes too honest. He was beginning again because others believed in and depended upon him. I, too, was a teenager with another chance to self-recreate and make something new from the rubble of what was.

Les Misérables is a story of choices and redemption. Theatrical productions themselves are these very qualities, and in each show I see, I collect another fragment of some lost and reclaimed part of myself. Some days, I reassemble the pieces as I sift through memories of shows I’ve seen—from the mystery of The Heiress to the devastation of The Glass Menagerie to the wasted lives of The Crucible. So many stories and lives are lived each day on Broadway. This goes for the fictional and real figures alike. These are the moments filling our “days with endless wonder,” as Fantine sings in “I Dreamed a Dream.” It doesn’t matter if you believe in magic; Broadway is as close as it gets to the real thing. Each actor is a magician and mirror—and when I visit any theatre, or show, I go to mourn what I have lost in my own life, and celebrate the strengths I have reclaimed.

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Over the next several weeks, we will be highlighting some of our favorite My B’way Stories. Make sure to keep an eye out, and start planning your next trip to New York City by booking a Broadway show with your local travel provider!