By Lee Chavis
When Noel Calcaterra took off from Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo, Uruguay in 2013 and landed in LAX for the very first time, she couldn’t help but wonder about the endless possibilities that lay ahead for her budding career. The thought of being a stranger in a foreign land never once daunted her. Quite the opposite: She felt like a kid on Christmas Eve ready to take on a new and magical world. Entertaining audiences had been a dream of hers since she was old enough to remember, stemmed in large measure from the molding influence of her father, a professional soccer player whom she had idolized as he routinely squared off in sold-out stadiums in Greece, where Noel had lived until the age of three. As foggy as those memories may have been for a three-year-old at the time, she credits them as being the template for her own future aspirations.
Patterning after her father’s passion for athleticism, Noel eventually took up classical ballet, Olympic gymnastics, tennis, and even volleyball – activities that would fully evolve once the family returned to their ancestral home of Dolores, Uruguay.
After high school graduation, however, she decided to venture off to the city where she had been born, Montevideo, to pursue studies in Business Administration at La Facultad de Ciencias Económicas. It was a matter of practicality – a Plan B as it were – though wanting to be a theatrical performer was something that had never strayed far from Noel’s mind. “I love singing,” she states without hesitation, though pointing out, “but back then I was also very shy. As a child, I remember how I would sometimes shut myself in my room and write stories and pretend that I was an actress singing on stage, though I never thought that this would one day end up being my career.” But the countless hours she had spent practicing inside her room paid off in ways that at the time not even she could have envisioned. “I took an acting class,” Noel recalls as if it were only yesterday, “and performing in front of a group of people gradually built a self-confidence I never thought I had in me. It also helped that in my other classes we sometimes had to do lectures because public speaking was one of the requirements.
Now ready to face a different kind of world and perhaps a more scrutinized one, Noel stepped out onto the stage for the first time at La Escuela de Comedia Musical (better known in English-speaking circles as “The School of Musical Theatre”) and immediately fell in love with the crowd.
“Being on stage makes me feel alive: the adrenaline, the smiles and tears on people’s faces when I take that bow. Knowing that I put my heart and soul into the best performance I could possibly give. It was like a dream come true. From that moment on, I promised myself that I would never let that dream stop.”
And non-stop it has been ever since. After her formal training at The School of Musical Theatre, Noel began teaching there, where she had met Luis Trochón, the school’s theater director. “For graduation, we had done the musical ‘Chicago,’ and Luis was so excited by what we had done that he decided to produce it for the Sala Teatro Movie Center, a major theater in Montevideo, which sold out every night,” Noel said. “I played Roxie Hart, the lead role. It was an experience that would change my life.”
In fact, the production garnered the attention of the Iris Awards, created by one of the top news media outlets in Uruguay, “El País,” in which Noel was nominated for the Iris Revelation Award for best performance of an actress in a debut role. Finally her light was beginning to shine, though she is also forever mindful of how it all began. “Everyone in my family would always sing and dance at get-togethers whenever we had the chance. So I guess you could say it was in my blood.” Noting, “I’m just grateful and blessed to have the opportunity to make them proud of me, to give back in some way, passing the torch of family tradition to the rest of the world.”
With the rise in her ever-increasing popularity, Noel would go on to perform in “West Side Story” by Trochón, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Robin Hood” with Nacho Cardozo, “Opera Do Malandro” directed by Omar Varela, and “Tin Soldier” directed by Rafael Pence. Soon others began taking notice of Noel’s work, including some of the most notables in the industry that read like a venerable list of Who’s Who: Uruguayan fashion designer Oscar Alvarez, in which Noel performed musically for many of his fashion shows; Javier Figueroa, the owner of Locomotion Audiovisual Company, one of the biggest animation studios in Uruguay, for whom Noel wrote songs and performed, including one television show that was developed into a musical; Clive Nolan, the English composer who saw Noel singing at a show in Punta del Este and invited her to record for him in England. Their two-year collaboration resulted in an album titled “Otra Vida” (“Another Life”) for which Nolan composed and produced while China Zorrilla (often referred to as the “Grand Dame” of South American theater) narrated, along with another opus for the musical “Alchemy” in which Noel also recorded.
And the list goes on. At times, Noel seems almost overwhelmed just thinking about it. “I have truly enjoyed working with so many great artists,” she says humbly.
Yet perhaps one of the biggest highlights of Noel’s successful and notable career was when she produced a musical of her own. “We did this show called ‘Brunette.’ We had performed with amazing success in several theaters in Montevideo and Dolores.
We had also done a special performance for the US embassy during Jazz Week.” Then, thinking back on the fortuitousness of it all, she remarked, “I had no idea of how it was going to turn out. I had just wanted to do something that I loved. Still, I didn’t know people would enjoy it so much. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to see that all of our shows had sold out.”
Added to Noel’s astonishment was the viral spread across several outlets that reached not only her fans in Uruguay but also in neighboring Argentina. Her social media following had grown exponentially as well, edging her on beyond the borders of local fame. And now was the time to capitalize on that momentum. “I knew that at some point, I was going to have to expand my horizons,” Noel recalls. “That’s when I decided to move to LA.”
As with most artists, Noel is a risk taker, but she also believes in a methodical step-by-step approach, building relationships with mentors who are eager to help guide her across that sometimes treacherous path known as Hollywood. “I have had so much support since I’ve been here in LA. I can’t stress enough where I would be today were it not for them.”
One of the first mentors Noel came across when she landed in LAX was Ruben Trujillo (also known as Trujo), an actor, singer and voiceover artist and one of the voices in the blockbuster film “Coco” that grossed over $800 million worldwide. Audiences may also remember him as the voice behind Genius in the Spanish version of “Aladdin.”
“Ruben is great dialect coach,” says Noel. “He had trained me on this production I wanted to be in where I had to adopt a Spanish dialect different from my own, similar to a native from Los Angeles, for example, having to learn a Boston accent. He also introduced me to the art of voiceovers. He truly is a dear friend and a consummate professional.”
As we delve deeper into the history of Noel’s experiences, what seems so striking is not only the humility she shows with each passing moment, but also her gracefulness, which in today’s age are valuable assets, especially in the entertainment business, where one must move mountains in overcoming the many obstacles that occur on a daily basis.
Just from watching the many videos you can find of her on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, you will immediately discover that she’s about as naturally charming and poised as they come – apart from the musical talents she has been gifted. She has that inescapable quality about her, that hard-to-find contagious personality and walk-in-the-room presence that shines in all sincerity, a genuine honesty in her character that transcends beyond the charisma and onstage persona she draws in with her audiences. “Fame and glory have never been something that I’ve wanted or even strived for. I love performing and sharing my inner self with people. I want to be the best that I can be in what I do. At the same time, I will never forget those who nurtured me into the person that I am. I will always be grateful for that.”
One of those nurturers has been Isabel Echeverry from Kontakto, a Latin talent management firm in LA, who, having seen Noel’s potential, immediately took her under her wing. “Moving to LA was not an easy decision, adjusting to a different environment, having to take the time to learn new names and faces while studying hard every day at perfecting my craft. It can be a real juggling act sometimes,” Noel says reflectively. “In this business, there are so many ups and downs along the way, though I will say that Isabel made my life a whole lot easier. She is like my compass guiding me each step of the way. She is also that constant reminder within me that if I want to achieve my dreams, I have to step out of my comfort zone. When you try to get ahead in life, you have to take risks. That goes without saying.”
But Noel always makes her challenges sound easier than they really are. Despite the countless hours and hard work she puts in, the end product always seems to come out flawless and yet as if done effortlessly. People can’t help but take notice, as did the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, recognized as one of the most prestigious institutions of Hispanic culture in the United States. There Noel met Margarita Galbán, the artistic director and a legendary figure in Spanish theater, who cast Noel as the lead role Dulcinea in “Man of La Mancha,” in which Galbán also directed.
The connection to get the rights for the famous musical came from Paloma San Basilio, the celebrated Spanish actress and artist who recently earned a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to Latin music. “I had admired Paloma San Basilio since the time I was a little girl. She came to the opening of ‘Man of La Mancha,’ and after the performance, she came backstage and gave me beautiful compliments with tears in her eyes,” Noel said, with emotion. “I will never forget that moment. It was like another dream out of so many others that had come true in my life.”
As news of Noel’s performance had begun spreading among industry circles, drawing rave reviews from critics and fans alike, the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts became so impressed that they hired her to work as an acting coach with another production they were developing. Unfortunately, the production eventually ended up getting cancelled due to circumstances beyond their control. But such is the business of Hollywood, where rejection and failure is a given – often minute by minute. Still, Noel takes it all in stride, knowing that one must be able to quickly adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. “One door closes and another one opens,” Noel said. “There is no such thing as failure unless you decide to give up. You have to move forward and learn from each experience you come across,” adding, “Even with the inevitable downs, I’ve been equally blessed with so many other great things happening here in LA.”
Now that Noel has established herself as a sought-after singer and stage performer, she has since gone on to play in several other successful and audience-loving shows, including “A Night at the Black Cat,” directed by the world-renowned Michelle Danner.
But first, let us take a moment to regress as we look back on Noel’s very first job after stepping off that plane at LAX as she took in the scenery, and, of course, that famous landmark “Hollywood” sign. Naturally there had to be some anxiety, you’d think, though you’d never notice it coming from her.
“My first job here in LA was with The Overstreet’s New Orleans Jazz Band,” Noel said, with a facial expression that shows just how thankful she was for the opportunity. “Jazz has always been one my passions. I’ve loved it as long as I can remember,” she explains. “Andy Comeau and Dawn Lewis (the founders) are such a pleasure to work with, though I haven’t worked with them for a while now because I’ve been so busy lately with other projects. I’m hoping we’ll get together again in the not-too-distant future for a reunion performance.”
Such is the testament not only to Noel’s affable outlook and resourcefulness, but also to her loyalty to the countless connections she has established in such a short time across the Hollywood landscape. “Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by extremely talented and gifted people, many of whom themselves have performed alongside huge names in the industry, which just makes me want to work harder at being better at what I do.”
And apparently that hard work has paid off, as the media have also begun taking notice of Noel’s work. Over the past three years or so, she has appeared in several magazine articles and also on television, including an appearance on the Dante Night Show, Hoy Magazine for the LA Times, and every TV channel and periodical in Uruguay.
The Dante Night Show was Noel’s first television appearance. “Dante invited me on his show and our conversation quickly turned into soccer.” Being that she had grown up around the sport with her father as a professional soccer player, she and Dante had a lot to talk about. “Of course, the first question is always: Who is your favorite team?” From there, the discussion became lively, followed by Noel’s equally lively performance of “Stuff Like That There,” which capped off her almost ten-minute interview with Dante that was shown all across the world.
Two months later, she got invited back for a second time by the Dante Night Show for a comedy segment called “Un Argentino Suelto en Hollywood” (“An Argentine Loose in Hollywood”).
So you have to wonder: What’s next for this rising star?
“There are three where I will be singing onstage in which either there is a banquet going on or there are bad guys in the back of a nightclub or at a bar plotting criminal acts while I’m singing to the audience, all of whom are oblivious to what is going on. I’ve read the scripts, and they sound captivating. “
Until then, Noel has been busy working on her own music and in October of 2018, released the eponymous album “Tributo Los Delfines” featuring songs of the legendary Uruguayan rock band from the ‘60s, collections of which were written back in the heyday of intense fan frenzy that at the time had become better known as “Beatlemania.”
“I traveled to Uruguay and did a very nice show there teaming up with my musical partners, Gustavo Abuchalja, who was the producer and actually the son of one of the members of the group, Jorge ‘Coyo’ Abuchalja – second guitar and vocalist – and then my other partner, Raul Medina, who did all of the musical arrangements and accompanied me on the keyboards. We put together different variations of some of the songs Los Delfines had composed. Some were in bossa nova, others in jazz, both genres complimentary to their Beatles style of music. We had so much fun making this album, not to mention, it’s always nice to go back home.”
Noel is currently working on her first single with movie composer Arturo Solar, who is providing the musical arrangement, and is very excited about the collaboration. “This will be the first time that I have recorded or written my own material,” she said, though with a quick addendum, as many writers will confess when discussing their past endeavors. “I mean, I had written songs before but with a lot of frustration in trying to make them perfect. Finally, this was the first one that I had fallen in love with and wanted to share with the world.” And with that out of the way, she added, “I am honored to be working with Arturo. He really is a musical genius.”
Now that Noel has established her foothold in the industry, she hopes to broaden her reach into English-speaking media platforms. “I am a firm believer in diversity and supporter of all cultures. Since I have adopted Los Angeles as sort of my second home, I would like for my thoughts of love and appreciation for the arts to include more diverse audiences as well.”
And yet, Noel will never forget where her journey began, watching her father entertain the mighty fans of soccer in Greece, returning as a hero in Uruguay and now passing the torch onto his daughter as she sets out to triumph in California, where the magic of dreams come true once those stars align to create that wonderful vision called “success.”