Alina Gonzalez never thought she’d be playing Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.” She’s usually cast as “loud, obnoxious characters,” she says with a laugh. But the Sanger educator, who went to Dinuba High School and UC San Diego, got a break last year as Cinderella in Selma’s “Into the Woods.” And now she snagged the prize role in the Visalia Theater Arts Alliance production of “Beauty,” which opens Thursday, Aug. 18.
We caught up with Gonzalez to talk about the show.
Q: What is your first memory of “Beauty and the Beast”? Was it the video version?
A: Yes! My mother used to buy me each VHS as they were released. It is one of my most vivid memories as a little girl. I remember being so excited that Belle had brown hair and hazel eyes.
Q: You’ve been singing since you were 5 years old. Who was your favorite singer?
A: Believe or not, my favorite singer was Patsy Cline! My mom loved her, so naturally I did as well. We even have recorded video of me singing her greatest hits! I broke into dance during “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and my mom made me start from the beginning of the song (no dancing included). Let’s just say I still break out into dance when I’m singing around the house.
Q: You’re a “late bloomer” when it comes to musical theater. Tell us about your first production and the break you took from theater in college. Are you glad you’re back?
A: My very first performance was when I was a senior in high school. I had no idea what a “musical” was. Even now, I don’t know too much about the theatre world, and I definitely don’t pretend to! My first show was “Into the Woods” and I played Rapunzel … a screaming princess with a witch for a mother who chops off her hair and blinds her husband! I was able to relive this production at the Selma Arts Center in 2015, and performed as Cinderella. I took a break during college, because I didn’t know about the opportunities in the Valley. I spent my time singing in choirs, and in an acapella group at UCSD. When I came home, a friend encouraged me to audition for the Reedley Opera House, but I laughed and said opera wasn’t my thing. Little did I know that I could have spent my entire childhood on stage, instead of my bedroom or backyard! Currently, I am working extra hard to play catch up, and plan to audition for shows in Fresno this next year.
Q: Have you been in “Beauty and the Beast” before?
A: Yes, I have! I played a silly girl, and gladly accepted the direction of Mark Norwood to be the “weird” silly girl. For example, during the song “Gaston” I pretended to save his chest hair in my pocket. Now, I am playing Belle and I want nothing to do with Gaston’s chest hairs.
Q: Were you surprised to get the role of Belle?
Somewhat, but I worked very hard leading up to the audition. Thankfully, Selma had just made me into a “princess” and I was able to bridge my acting experience into the audition. I went in knowing that my goal as an actress was to expand my resume. Belle is perfect for me, because she is equal parts spunk and smarts.
Q: This is your first time working with Theater Arts Alliance in Visalia. What has the experience been like so far?
A: The experience has been phenomenal. I have only done one South Valley show, at College of the Sequoias, and performed as Nellie in “Jekyll and Hyde.” I know Lim and Chavelah Forgey (at TAA) because of our involvement with the “Les Miserables” Fresno Grand Opera production a couple of years ago. Several actors in our production were a part of that learning experience Being a part of TAA has been wonderful, because I am once again reminded of the raw talent we have in the Valley. In our production we have experienced dancers who dance their way throughout the entire show, even during the wolf scenes! To me, that’s what theatre is all about … bridging reality and imagination, on stage. I believe TAA has done a fantastic job in adding extra layers of magic, creating a very colorful and meaningful experience for the audience.
Q: How do you think Lim Forgey, the director, is making this production his own?
A: Lim Forgey has a wonderful way of keeping Disney magic sacred, while providing the audience with real moments. Disney has substance, and Lim has pushed us from day one to provide a stage experience both young kids and adults can relate to. There are so many woven themes throughout the show, and he has allowed us actors to acknowledge these themes and embed them within our characters. He isn’t afraid to lead, and he does a fantastic job of guiding us actors to our own explanations of how we connect with characters, or even sometimes a single line.
Q: Thought experiment here: If the Beast didn’t transform back into the prince, do you think Belle would stick with him in the long run? Or would the icky-fur-thing eventually become a turn-off?
A: This question is easy; Belle loves the beast past all that matted fur. She wasn’t ever afraid to put him in his place, and loved him before the last petal fell. I think the fact he turns into a handsome prince is just a bonus. Plus, “Beauty and the Beast” sounds better than “Beauty and the Handsome.”
Q: Famous moment in the show: the dancing scene. What goes through your mind then?
A: “Alina. You’re wearing one of the most iconic Disney dresses, and you’re acting as Belle. Do. Not. Trip. Also, do not try to lead the waltz. That’s the Beast’s job.”
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: One of my favorite parts about becoming Belle, has been the research I have done on the role. I’ve been studying the original Disney movie and I’m doing lots of her original moments and reactions … even down to when she moves her hair out of her face! Linda Woolverton, who was the first woman to write a screenplay for a Disney movie and wrote the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast, said “The only thing I wrote to describe Belle physically was ‘she has a little wisp of hair that keeps falling in her face.’ Because I wanted her to not be perfect. It was important that not every hair be in place.” If you come to the show and see me moving my “imperfect” piece of hair, you know why. Belle may be a princess, but just like me, she is a spunky, loving, and messy haired girl like a lot of us.
Beauty and the Beast
- Opens 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18. Runs 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19; and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21.
- L.J. Williams Theatre, 1001 W. Main St., Visalia
- www.theaterartsalliance.com, 559-972-8417.
- $21.50, $17.50 children