It turned out to be much more.
After the applause ended, Gonzalez took the stage to tell the audience and even the performers that it would also be his last show.
The hall fell silent. Some performers wept.
"I think one person in the crowd yelled out, 'No,'" said Gonzalez, 76, who has led the theater company since its inception in 1959. "But my answer is still yes. Even the pope retired."
The theater performs
"He's a walking, talking repository of the performing arts history of this city that is not equaled by anyone else," said
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A man of Gonzalez's importance, said
"If he had told people weeks or just days in advance that it was his last show, the attention it would have gotten would have been crazy," said Figueredo, whose grandmother
And that, said Gonzalez, is why he kept it secret. The focus should not have been on him.
"That show was about the music and theater of
Besides, the theater must also endure an even bigger loss, he said: The retirement of his wife and performer
If he is the face of
"She is so talented," he said. "I could not have done half the shows without her. She will be harder to replace than me."
After making his decision a few months ago, Gonzalez confided only in his board of directors so they could find a new artistic director
They chose an interim director,
"I am honored to follow Rene," Matthews said. "He is an institution in both the Latin and theatrical community."
A native of
On the second floor was his family's living quarters and on the first was his parents' business -- Casa
"I guess I did the same with zarzuelas," Gonzalez said.
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At one time, because of the sizeable Latin populations of
But by the time Gonzalez was old enough to appreciate the theater, the tradition was dying.
The last time a company from
"You had the Depression and then World War II," said Gonzalez. "It was no longer economical or practical for the theater groups to travel to
His link to Spanish opera was
"She would come to the store all the time," said Gonzalez. "I was fascinated with her anecdotes about the theater. And I was also a big fan of Spanish music. I was always getting my hands on records."
In 1958, while pursuing a degree in education, he produced his first theater show as a project for the
"Nothing in particular inspired me. I just had this
Held at the campus's
The lead was Esperante, who came out of retirement to support Gonzalez.
The show was such a hit the
He was busy starting a career as an educator, which eventually would take him to Middleton and Blake junior high schools as an assistant principal.
But he had been bitten by the theater bug so he found time for it.
"Theater has never been a business for me. Education paid my bills. Theater has always been a passion."
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His next show for the
With Centro Asturiano as its home, the new theater company was popular from the start, Gonzalez said, because of talent and audience demand for the zarzuelas on which they were raised.
To grow the audience, the
By 1975, the theater group outgrew Centro Asturiano and moved to become the resident theater company at the
Performances grew from three or four musicians or a lone pianist to 18-piece orchestras. Casts grew to 80. Sets became extravagant. Four shows and a number of concerts were staged every year, each selling close to 900 tickets.
The theater changed with the times, sometimes on purpose and sometimes accidentally.
They planned to stage a Spanish "Hello Dolly" in 1982 but learned the official translation was stuck in
Gonzalez had already promoted "Hello Dolly," so the
"We would do a week in English and then a week in Spanish of the same show. It made us unique."
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An image consultant in the early 1980s suggested replacing "Little" with "Lyric" in the theater's name.
Their productions were not little at all, Gonzalez said, and the new name signaled that it specializes in musicals.
The center became the theater's new home.
In 1992 the theater began touring outside
In 2002, the
"We've had a great run," Gonzalez said.
But money was always an issue. Each year, he would worry it would be the company's last.
"All costs just continued to go up -- wardrobe, sets, theaters. The sizes of the shows we do are not cheap. We'd get some donors and we always sold tickets, but it was still always a close call."
To cut back on expenses,
It was around that time he began contemplating retirement.
"I realized it was taking me twice as much time to do what I did 10 years ago. I kept wondering what it would be like in another 10 or 20."
Gonzalez still loves the
"Everything has its season," he said, borrowing the
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