By Zach Dunkin
There’s this place, this feeling of unified oneness, actors commonly describe as “the island of misfit toys.” It comes from a scene, of all places, in the Christmas classic “Rudolph Red-Nosed Reindeer,” where Rudolph finds a sanctuary for defective and unwanted toys. By the time the show is complete, these “misfits” find each other, home, friendship, community and families.
“That’s the way it is with actors,” said Carmel actress Julia Bonnett (pronounced bon-NAY), a 2009 Carmel High School graduate. “Actors are a bunch of people who really don’t fit into a lot of other places but they work together.”
As some young people might, Bonnett often felt like she never fit in, especially as a theater-type person who, despite seeking a degree in business at Indiana University, didn’t care for math, didn’t want to go into finance and didn’t want to work for a big corporation.
“That was weird,” she said. “That was one time in my life when I thought, ‘Should I be here?’ But that time of being uncomfortable was really good because, well, that’s life.”
But that was then and this is now, and now finds the talented Bonnett portraying the character of another young woman who felt out of place – Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” which opens its seven-week run on May 19 at the Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre in Indianapolis.
“I think anyone (who) has ever felt ostracized for being different can relate to Belle, and I am included in that,” said Bonnett, whose full-time gig is Talent Officer at the Civic Theatre. “She’s different in a town and a castle where they are different but they all work together. Belle’s vulnerability in that sense is what makes her
so relatable to so many audiences. It is also what ultimately connects her with the Beast.”
Bonnett was 14 years old she saw a production of “Beauty in the Beast” on the Carmel High School stage, and she was “in absolute awe.”
“It affected me deeply and definitely was the show that made me want to pursue acting and music seriously,” said the 2009 Great American Songbook Youth Ambassador.
Then, a year later she saw Carmel High grad Sarah Litzsinger play the lead role as Belle in the Broadway production of the Disney musical.
“Then, I thought, ‘Oh, I can do that. She came from where I came from,’” recalled Bonnett.
And she is.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is the beloved fairytale brought to the stage with great songs including “Be Our Guest” and of course, the title song. Adapted from the Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont fairy tale, the musical tells the story of a prince who is transformed into a hideous beast as punishment for his cruel and selfish ways, and an adventurous young woman named Belle whom he imprisons in his castle. In order to be human again the Beast must earn Belle’s love. Preston Yates makes his debut at the B&B as Beast. Eddie Curry directs.
This will be Bonnett’s second appearance at the theater on Indy’s northwestside – she was in“9 to 5” – and her first as Belle.
Her favorite past roles include Jo in “Little Women,” Cinderella in “Into the Woods” and Janet van de Graat in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” all three at Civic Theatre. Obviously, she loves playing strong female characters.
“Those characters are so important because they are great role models for young girls. For example, Belle has greater aspirations than just romance. It’s important for a girl to see herself in another character and that she is capable of the doing the same thing. It’s good to have female characters where young girls can see and go, ‘Oh, I can do that.’”
Just like Bonnett did.