April 11, 2019

MSM Spotlight:
Musical Theatre students Ariela Pizza (BM ’21) and Spencer Gonzalez (BM ’21)

Second year Musical Theatre students Ariela and Spencer are cast members in MSM’s production of Fiorello!, April 12–14 in Niedorff-Karpati Hall.

Ariela and Spencer talk about their roles in the show, and what makes the Musical Theatre program at Manhattan School of Music unlike any other.

Tell us about Fiorello! — What do you love about this show?

Spencer: Fiorello! tells the story of Fiorello H. LaGuardia and his life before he was elected Mayor of New York City in 1933. It focuses on his personal struggles and major political events simultaneously, all leading to the moment of his election. I love this show because of how we are able to represent citizens of New York City in the early 1900’s — the characters are all so different, so to watch my classmates bring their own, unique style to each individual role is exciting for me.

Ariela: The music is super catchy! It’s really cool to be living in Manhattan and learning so much about the history of New York City through this show. To me, this musical feels like a fun, surprisingly comedic, history lesson!

What’s your favorite scene in the show?

Ariela: The Name’s LaGuardia is a big musical number featuring the whole cast, and it is definitely my favorite part of the show. During this scene, LaGuardia is rallying for his first election to be a Congressman, and the cast portrays how all the different boroughs of New York City reacted to his campaign.

Spencer: I love that part of the show too because it shows the diversity of NYC. From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to the Italian Village, you see how much of an impact Fiorello had on various communities.

Spencer Gonzalez, Musical Theatre (BM ’21) (left) and Ariela Pizza, Musical Theatre (BM ’21). Photos by Toby Winarto, Viola (BM '19)

Tell us about your characters. What do you enjoy about playing these roles? What do you find challenging?

Ariela: My character, Dora, is a bit of a spitfire! She’s a very passionate woman who provides comedic relief throughout the show, despite her involvement with an aggressive man. Their relationship illustrates the issue of domestic violence towards women in the early 1900’s. The most challenging thing about this role is finding the balance between appropriately representing such a dark topic and providing humorous moments.

Spencer: I play Neil, whose storyline take place over the course of 20 years. Neil is in his early 20’s when he is first introduced as Fiorello’s incompetent law clerk, but as the plot progresses, my character becomes more confident in himself. It’s both exciting and challenging to play Neil because there are so many sides to his personality throughout the course of the show. I find the complexity of this character, and how free I am to take liberties while playing him, very rewarding.

What do you love about MSM’s Musical Theatre Program?

Ariela: I decided to study at Manhattan School of Music because there’s no better place to pursue an education and career in musical theatre than New York City. The MT faculty at MSM are second-to-none, and to work with David Loud, our musical director, has been an incredible experience for me. The original Broadway choreographer of Fiorello! was Peter Gennaro, who is the father of Liza Gennaro, the head of our Program, and David Loud is friends with the composer of Fiorello!, Sheldon Harnick. In rehearsal one day, David actually turned and said to us, “Oh there’s a lyric here that I want to change, let me email Sheldon.” There are very few institutions where your director is able to contact the original composer about a lyric! We may be a new program, but the quality of our faculty, as well as the opportunities they provide for us, make MSM Musical Theatre a wonderful program to be a part of.

Spencer: Studying at a conservatory in New York City provides a realistic experience of what it’s like to work in the musical theatre industry, as well as what it takes to succeed. Just about every day, my classmates and I are on campus working from 9 in the morning to 10 at night. These expectations toughen us and encourage constant improvement, which is necessary to excel in the real world. It’s a very cool experience to watch my classmates, and myself, get better by the second, and it’s all due to the incredible Musical Theatre Faculty at MSM.

Studying at a conservatory in New York City provides a realistic experience of what it’s like to work in the musical theatre industry, as well as what it takes to succeed.

MSM Musical Theatre

One last question… What makes Fiorello! relevant for today’s audience?

Spencer: This musical shows how much power we have as individuals and that every vote makes a difference. If we, as Americans, step up and speak out, we have the ability to bring real change to this city, and to this country.

Ariela: One of the last lines in the show is, “so cast your spell come next election day”, and in that moment we speak the line directly to the audience. Fiorello! makes a strong case for how important it is to make our voices heard, and we hope that the audience leaves this show feeling inspired by that message.

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