Young Plum, Gateway performers spend summer on stage with CLO
This summer has been anything but a vacation for several local performers.
Plum's Gianni DelMastro, a fifth-grader at Regency Park Elementary, and Ellie Tongel, a sixth-grader at Pivik Elementary, as well as Jonah Steele, who will attend Gateway Middle School in the fall, have kept busy performing with the Pittsburgh CLO.
The most recent production, “Gypsy,” wrapped up July 19.
The students are veterans of the stage with multiple performances on their resumes.
DelMastro and Steele performed in “Mary Poppins,” while Tongel has credits from “Mary Poppins,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Annie” to her name.
“ ‘Gypsy' and ‘Mary Poppins' went very well,” said Tongel, who has appeared in advertisements for Chevron, Hershey Park, Aquafresh, The Orthopaedic Institute at Monongahela Valley Hospital and Uncle Charley's Sausage. “Everyone worked together so amazingly. The two musicals are altogether so different, which brings two totally new experiences.”
There's no place like the stage for either ensemble performer.
“It feels really great to get up on the stage and perform,” said DelMastro, who takes musical theater, tap, jazz and ballet at the CLO.
“I don't really get nervous. I just get anxious to get out there and act. (I get) maybe just one butterfly right before opening night, but as soon as I get out on the stage, it's the best feeling in the world.”
The CLO productions also offer a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes goings on, which Steele found interesting.
“The environment backstage, talking to all the people and getting to know them and how they interact,” was one of Steele's favorite parts of being involved in the shows.
Each show is put together rather quickly, on average in less than two weeks with about 20 hours of rehearsal time.
“It's amazing how an entire show comes together in time for the opening night,” said Tongel. “After all, we usually only have 7-10 days of rehearsals. So, everyone is working extremely hard to get it all done.”
For these kids, performing is far more than a summer fling. It's a passion that will continue to a lifelong pursuit of their dreams.
“My long-term goals are, of course, to be a star on Broadway,” said DelMastro.
“I really just want to keep studying and working hard to get there. I won't stop until I'm a star on Broadway.”
Reaching those goals is not an easy endeavor. The need to balance school and other projects leads to late nights, meals on the go and studying in the car while parents drive them to and from school and practices.
Plus, each student is involved in other extracurriculars.
DelMastro competes for a hip-hop squad; Tongel is a gymnast and takes dance lessons at M&M Dance Academy; and Steele is a first-degree black-belt in karate.
They all participate in activities for their respective churches, too.
“I have learned to juggle all of my activities,” Tongel said.
“I actually love to be busy. I feel that everything in my schedule has a place. I really couldn't imagine not having something to do.”
Ed Phillipps is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.