BY BILL BUELL
Whatever that “something” is you need to make it big in the entertainment industry, Gabriella Pizzolo has it.
An eighth grader at Van Antwerp Middle School in Niskayuna, Pizzolo already has two long Broadway runs on her resume as well as a movie credit from the Lifetime TV network. Her theater career got started in earnest back in the spring of 2011 when she decided to audition for the Schenectady Light Opera Company’s junior production of “Les Miserables.”
“I had absolutely no idea what I was doing,” said Pizzolo, who will help SLOC celebrate 90 years in show business by performing in the troupe’s annual gala performance Friday and Saturday night. “I just went and auditioned, sang a song from ‘Les Miz,’ and the people were so nice. I don’t know if I would have stayed with it if the people there weren’t so nice and helpful. I really feel like SLOC is my home.”
Before SLOC, however, Pizzolo wowed faculty members at Craig Elementary School in Niskayuna, including music teacher Theresa Fitzmaurice. Again, it was another scene from “Les Misérables,” young Cozette mopping the floor, that so impressed Pizzolo’s teachers during an audition for the first grade talent show.
“She walked onto the stage with her bucket and her bandana and all her props and I was like, ‘oh this kid is just killing me,’” remembered Fitzmaurice. “She was so adorable. Then she sang her song and she was wonderful. I marvelled at her ability to walk on the stage and to be totally in command. She was very confident in what she was doing.”
Fitzmaurice soon suggested to Pizzolo’s mom, Natalie Steed Pizzolo, to get her daughter involved in local community theater, and it was at the SLOC audition for “Les Miz” that Gabby was first spotted by Lisa Franklin.
“She was in the junior production of ‘Les Mis’ with my son, and I immediately thought that this kid was going to be a star,” said Franklin, a voice teacher/coach from Loudonville who knows something about Broadway, having three of her own children, Charles, Emily and George, who can also claim New York credits on their young theater resumes. “She had an incredible stage presence for one so young. I started voice lessons with her right after ‘Les Mis,’ and I knew right away she was going to end up on Broadway. Along with her stage presence, she has an incredible voice.”
Next up for Pizzolo in October of 2011 was the role of Susan in “Miracle on 34th Street” with the Classic Theater Guild. Amy Lane played her mother.
“I do remember seeing her at her audition, and she was such a dynamic little talent,” said Lane, who has performed with a number of local companies, including Curtain Call Theater and the Schenectady Civic Players. “She did this monologue and she was brilliant. You could tell she just had that something.”
Pizzolo, who learned part of her craft at the Orlando School of Dance, also performed for SLOC in “Ragtime,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Sound of Music.” Then, with Franklin’s urging, it was off to New York City and an audition for “Matilda,” where producers selected four young girls to share the role on Broadway.
“I got down to the final seven and I was one of the three they didn’t choose,” said Pizzolo. “Then I went to see the show, loved it, and when they had open calls for the next round of Matilda’s I went down and auditioned and I got it.”
In April of 2013, exactly two years after her SLOC debut, Pizzolo was performing as the title character in “Matilda,” a Broadway blockbuster that was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won five, including Best Musical. In the spring of 2015, Pizzolo was in her second Broadway show as Small Allison in “Fun Home,” also a five-time Tony winner with 12 nominations.
“I loved every minute of both shows,” said Pizzolo, who started out as understudy to Tony winner Sidney Lucas before taking over the role of Small Allison. “I was doing what I loved to do with all these wonderful people. It was really amazing.”
Following the end of her “Fun Home” run, Pizzolo earned the role of young CC in the Lifetime channel’s remake of “Beaches” with Idina Menzell. Now, after three years of a lot of travelling and home schooling with her mom, Pizzolo is back at Van Antwerp Middle School. Life is pretty normal.
“All my friends are nice and pretty supportive, and they treat me like a normal kid, which is exactly the way i want to be treated,” said Pizzolo, who along with acting also enjoys painting, swimming and playing soccer. “I’m kind of just enjoying the moment right now and relaxing. It’s great being home and going to school.”
Being a normal kid, is a role Pizzolo also handles pretty well.
“Gabby always had this lovely and natural ability to handle anything we threw at her,” said Fitzmaurice, who has seen Pizzolo perform on Broadway five times (three “Matilda” and two “Fun Home” performances). “She was never pretentious. She was always sweet and humble, and so generous to share her good fortune with us and her friends.”
“She was a very likable little girl and that hasn’t changed as she’s gotten older,” said Franklin. “Everyone loves her. She’s a great kid.”
In “Miracle on 34th Street,” Lane remembers Pizzolo getting along famously with East Greenbush’s Heather Pangburn, with whom she shared the role of Susan.
“Gabby and Heather took turns doing the role, and they became really good friends,” said Lane. “There was no competition between them. Gabby was always delightful to work with. She was very generous.”