After years of singing, acting and dancing, one alumna made it to Broadway.
Gianna Yanelli, musical theater alumna, has taken to the big stage after lifelong dreams of musical theater and excelling in her commitment to the trade.
A love for Britney Spears growing up led to Yanelli’s passion for singing and dancing. What was once a young girl pretending to be a pop-star in her living room is now a star in “Mean Girls” on Broadway.
Since high school, Yanelli decided musical theater was her greatest passion and wanted to peruse it as a career. When she turned 18, she earned the lead in Philadelphia as Hodel from “Fiddler on the Roof,” her first professional production. As a result of her performance, she was nominated for the Barrymore Award in outstanding supporting actress in a musical.
Her future was further solidified when she decided to leave the east coast and attend Texas State for her bachelor’s in musical theater.
According to College Magazine, Texas State’s Musical Theatre Program is one of the top ten in the nation. The program started in 2009 by award-winning actress and director Kaitlin Hopkins, head of musical theater.
Yanelli auditioned for the university while in Chicago. Immediately after Hopkins saw Yanelli’s audition, she offered her a place in the program.
“It has been really amazing to watch (Yanelli’s) evolution because she has really evolved into a grounded, focused disciplined performer,” Hopkins said. “When I first met her she was a scrappy little fighter, rough around the edges in a good way.”
After graduating in 2014, Yanelli traveled back to Connecticut for the summer. She participated in the Connecticut Rep Theater and took on two shows: “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Gypsy.”
“(After graduation) I felt so confident as a human being in what I had to bring to the table, and that separated me from everyone else,” Yanelli said.
The following three years she lived in New York to audition, network and take different acting and vocal classes. She participated in a couple of regional productions like “Saturday Night Fever.”
However, in February she got her big break with “Mean Girls on Broadway,” created by writer Tina Fey, director Casey Nicholaw and producer Lorne Michaels.
Similar to the original film, the musical features a teenage girl from Africa, Cady Heron, who faces the chaos of high school. She was not prepared to face the plastics, a trio of popular girls, who befriend her. Cady later learns to despise and plot against them. This show humorously exemplifies how to be a true friend and worthy nemesis.
Yanelli is in the ensemble for “Mean Girls” playing the Danny DeVito character as well as covering for one of the leads, Janice Ian, artistic friend to the protagonist, when actress to Janice Ian is unable to perform.
She began rehearsals in February and performed for the first time in March. Yanelli will perform her role Tuesday through Sunday for a year.
“I think (musical theater) is such a special thing because it’s telling a story that impacts people through music,” Yanelli said. “it’s unlike anything else.”
The theater realm requires much sacrifice. Yanelli constantly contends with her health and sleep to keep up with the fast-paced life of daily rehearsals, performances and award appearances.
Preparation before show time requires an hour in hair and makeup, then warming up to ensure a smooth performance. Every night she ices her joints, stretches, hydrates and gets as much sleep as possible before the next day with the same schedule.
Stephen Brower, a 2015 musical theater alumnus, is performing in “Anastasia” and understands the obstacles of being part of the industry.
“A difficult thing about the business is letting your career take you where you’re meant to go,” Brower said. “We don’t get the luxury of planning.”
Yanelli’s ultimate goal is to work and land leads on Broadway or find a place on television.
Her advice to others pursuing this career path is to work on your craft, even when not working. Yanelli said everything she has achieved is due to her hard work.
From Texas State stairs to the bright lights on stage, Yanelli’s dreams have become reality and hard work got her where she always wanted to be.