A Conversation with Katrina Aguilar

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A Conversation with Kristina Aguilar
February 23, 2024
By Clifford Bell

Katrina Aguilar

“I want to be where the people are, I wanna see, wanna see ’em dancing,
walking around on those, what do you call them, oh feet.

Flippin’ your fins you don’t get too far.  Legs are required for jumping, dancing.
Strolling along down a, what’s that word again…street.

Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun,
Wandering free, wish I could be part of that world.”

Generations of children know these lyrics by Howard Ashman and the lush melody that accompanies them by Alan Menken from the Disney animated musical The Little Mermaid, better than they know “America the Beautiful.” For adult audiences, I once read that it is currently the most requested song at Karaoke nights across the country.

For a child with autism, these words are not simply entertainment. They can be a magic incantation to unlock the confinement of isolation. Being diagnosed as “neurodiverse,” runs the gamut of a full spectrum of communication irregularities. No longer immediately categorized as disabled, the various expressions of being “on the spectrum” are now considered “differently abled.”

Singer Katrina Aguilar was completely non-verbal until she was five years old. Diagnosed with autism, she lived in a silent, private world until she saw the movie The Little Mermaid. The music of the film reached into her isolation and gave her a pathway to connecting with the world around her. First, she began to talk. Then, she began to sing. And soon, she began to interact with others in way she never had before.

Now, years later, Katrina is an accomplished performer. Having graduated from the prestigious Boston Conservatory with a degree in Classical Voice, she is currently performing her one-woman cabaret show, Part of Your World, which tells the story of how Katrina found her voice and her ability to connect with others through the music of Disney films.

As a cabaret producer, I first encountered Katrina in her hometown of San Diego, California. I saw her singing at an open mic and I was completely fascinated by this young woman with an extraordinarily powerful singing voice who had a quirky, mysterious quality about her. As I got to know her better and to learn her story, I knew I wanted to help her created a vehicle to share her experiences. The result was an instant success locally. She received rave reviews and performed before sold-out audiences. Sadly, as with the rest of the world, we hit March of 2020 and all of the momentum of her original success was halted.

And yet, as we approach the fourth anniversary of the dreaded day that the world, for the most part, shut down, we are getting ready to present Katrina’s first big performance in Los Angeles. A Concert for Autism Care Today on Sunday, February 25th at the historic Woman’s Club of Hollywood. (See article at https://cabaretscenes.org/2024/02/22/a-benefit-performance-for-autism-care-today)

In the days before the event, I interviewed Katrina about how she was feeling.

Katrina Aquilar
Photo: Rex Sanchez

Clifford After the long and unanticipated hiatus caused by the pandemic, how does it feel to be preparing to perform your one woman show again?

Katrina Interestingly, there wasn’t much of a hiatus with this show. We’ve had it going on at least once a year with one of those being right before we knew of the pandemic, and then we did that private one during the height of the pandemic, so it does not feel that different on that front.

Clifford Your story is very inspirational. Not only to those on the autism spectrum, but for anyone who relates to overcoming obstacles. What would you say your message is?

Katrina It’s simple: “You’re not alone.”

Clifford I know we had the pleasure of creating your show with the very talented musical director Richard Dueñez Morrison. It seems that you two have a tremendous bond and an almost telepathic connection about your mutual relationships to this music. What has it been like working with Richard?

Katrina Richard has been amazing. Out of so many musicians, teachers, accompanists I’ve worked with, he’s been one of the few people who truly gets me both as a musician and as a person. In fact, I would go as far as to say had it not been for having him as my musical director on this project, this show MAY not have worked as well as it does.

Clifford Part of our process before the pandemic was that I was able to feature you in several of my Los Angeles events and you always got an enthusiastic response. Did it surprise you that the L.A. audiences embraced you so completely?

Katrina Initially I was not sure what I felt or expected before I started on those shows, so I don’t know whether I would say I was particularly surprised. Though, like always, I appreciated the love and support I have had.

Clifford For the upcoming event, you will be accompanied by the brilliant Brad Ellis, who has been one of the most respected and admired musical directors in TV, film, and stage for decades, not to mention his worldwide fame as “Brad the pianist” on the hit TV show Glee. What is it like for you working with Brad who is a superstar in his field?

Katrina There just isn’t enough you can say about Brad. I always tell people out of several different vocal coaches, accompanists, etc. that I’ve had in my life both in classical music and musical theater, he’s one of the top two I would say that it’s simply not fair to compare him to anyone else. He’s just incredible both as a musician and as a person, which is why I was and am honored he chose to take on this project with me.

Clifford I’ve heard you speak about your performing as a sort of ministry, to be “of service.” What do you mean by that?

Katrina As a Christian, I was taught the gifts you are given are meant to be used to serve God by serving others. This show in particular for me is a testimony I want to share with the world so it can help others in need.

As I was concluding my interview with Katrina, I said to her omnipresent, very supportive father, Carlos, how inspiring it is to see how the songs from a movie musical could have such a profound impact on the quality of a person’s life, and he said, “No kidding!! Katrina’s first words were “Wanna watch Mermaid?”
Katrina Aguilar will headline A Concert For ‘Autism Care Today on Sunday, February 25 at 5pm at the Woman’s Club Of Hollywood.  Also featured will be two acclaimed performers also on the autism spectrum, comedian Christopher Tenney and singer George Steeves.


You can learn more about Katrina at Katrina Aguilar and more about Clifford Bell at Cabarabia.

Clifford Bell

Clifford Bell, known affectionately as "Lawrence of Cabarabia," is one of the leading directors and producers in the fields of cabaret, concerts, and one-person shows. As a 40-year veteran of show business, Clifford has worked in venues large and small. He has written and directed variety performances featuring icons like Walter Cronkite, Colin Powell, and Michael Eisner at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California, and toured with television icon Katey Sagal and her band. With his frequent collaborator Lara Teeter (Tony Nominee, On Your Toes), Clifford also co-created the successful touring show Direct from Broadway, starring Tony Award winners Debbie Gravitte (Jerome Robbins' Broadway) and Michael Maguire (Les Misérables). As one of the most prominent figures in the West Coast cabaret community, Clifford hosts "Cabarabia The Podcast," focused on "Live Entertainment in Intimate Settings." Clifford is particularly well known for his variety evenings and showcase presentations, often for charitable causes. One of Clifford's most anticipated efforts is Our Name Is Barbra, the annual celebration of Barbra Streisand's birthday, which has been raising funds and awareness for Clifford's beloved charity Project Angel Food for the past 24 years and counting! In 2023, Clifford will be featured (alongside Chita Rivera, Bruce Vilanch, and Sam Harris) in Marc Saltarelli's documentary "Studio One Forever."