Gianna Yanelli, is (virtually) appearing in “Comedy Tonight” at Act II Playhouse in Ambler.
She started life in South Philly and remembers those early years very well. “My father was a big Barbra Streisand fan and used to play her music all the time,” Gianna Yanelli recalled. “I didn't know who she was, but I remember dancing around the house in my diapers singing her 'Jingle Bells.'”
Later, the family moved to the Main Line, and Yanelli, now 29, developed a fascination with Brittany Spears. “As soon as I got home from school, I would put on her music and choreograph a concert I would put on for practically anyone who would watch. I would have my sister and my cousin be my back-up singers, and I think that's when my love of performing really started.”
She soon began thinking about doing theater as well as singing and dancing after she her first show when she was eight years old. “I was in the third grade, and we did 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.' I remember carrying candles in the aisles but also looking up at the people on the stage and knowing that's where I wanted to be someday.”
And as she grew older, Yanelli decided to pursue her passion by going off to study at Texas State University to major in musical theater. “Texas State was never on my map of places to go, but they were recruiting people at the time and happened to have a program that interested me. And now, looking back, I'm so glad I went there,” Yanelli said. “I learned so many things about acting and much, much more.
“For instance,” she continued, “by going there I knew I was going to end up being more than just the performer I wanted to be because they taught us how to be a good human being as well as a performer.
They also stressed how the behind-the-scenes people were just as important as we were in producing a great show. There really is no difference. Everyone contributes.”
After graduation, Yanelli, who is currently appearing in “Comedy Tonight” at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, eventually headed for NewYork to begin what she hoped would be her climb up the ladder of success. And after a couple of years working odd jobs, she finally got her big break, making her Broadway debut in the original cast of “Mean Girls.”
The New York-based actress has also performed at the Tony Awards, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Saturday Night Live, Law and Order:SVU and more. And now she's back at Act II as one of the four alums to be showing off their comedic skills. Aside from Yanelli, the show features Tony Braithwaite, the Playhouse's Artistic Director, Joe Mallon and Dan Matarazzo. Filmed at the Playhouse, the show is currently streaming through April 30.
“I love straight acting. and I also love doing comedy,” said this full-time thespian. “In 'Comedy Tonight' we're all basically helping to write it. So although a lot of it is written by us, we're also pulling from original material, like I'm singing a lot of 'Funny Girl' songs, which is a dream role of mine. For the show we took a lot of inspiration from British satire, a little spin on a well-known theater song and much more.”
Because of COVID the cast faced many challenges, “like learning how to perform on Zoom instead of in front of a live audience in the theater that could provide us with an energy,” Yanelli explained. “So the major challenge, I think, was finding the energy within ourselves to keep the show going and be just as successful as it would have been before the pandemic.”
Tickets for the show start at $30 and are available at act2.org or by calling 215-654-0200.
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