Theater: Finding the inner beauty of Cinderella’s stepsister – The Mercury News

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  • July 17, 2019
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How does a beautiful young woman who was named Miss Santa Clara and Miss Silicon Valley become one of the ugly stepsisters of “Cinderella”?


Douglas Carter Beane rewrote the book for the 2013 Broadway adaptation, and he took a new approach to the whole evil step-family thing.

“They took the original story — from a 90-minute TV show,” explained Milissa Carey, who is directing the show for Foothill Music Theater. “They’d never really fleshed it out before. It was quite a thin book. They needed a whole book for Broadway, and got playwright Douglas Carter Beane to write it.

“He had a daughter. He wanted to look at this with fresh eyes, so instead of Cinderella being a passive victim of fate, in this one she becomes quite empowered for her future, transforms people around her, becomes an agent of change.”

The story become “very girl-empowering,” Carey said.

The stepsisters are also different in Beane’s retelling of the old tale.

“Instead of the stereotypical awful people,” Carey said, “one falls in love with a villager, who wants to effect change. She forgoes her family trappings to hang out with the guy.”

“It’s really less about being ugly on the outside and more about being ugly on the inside,” explains Melissa Gialdini, the former beauty queen (as Melissa Bowling) who plays Gabrielle, the stepsister who gets to fall in love. “My character isn’t mean like the step mom and stepsister, but really kind. Ella helps her be confident. It’s fun to play this version.”

In real life, Gialdini works as a hospice care consultant, has also worked in social services at a nursing home, and interned at a non-profit for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.

Born and raised in Santa Clara, she started college at Foothill College, then transferred to Cal State Monterey Bay, majoring in health and human services.

“I started working at a nursing home before I graduated,” Gialdini said during a recent phone interview. “That got my foot in the door.”

Her current work with hospice care involves “all kinds of people,” she said, “families and patients. Some are very accepting, know what’s going on. And people still coming to terms with what’s going on. I thought it was would be challenging, at first, because I am so emotional, but knowing how much we can provide in terms of help make it really very rewarding as a career.”

Gialdini started singing when she was 6. “Mom and I were always singing at home,” she said. “I tried all the little league sports, but nothing clicked. Then she put me in musical theater. That’s where I found my home.”

She continued doing theater until high school, when she quit it to join the cheerleading squad at Santa Clara High School.

Once out of college, she was working in Monterey and commuting back home twice a week, which made doing theater impossible. But a new job helped her stay home in San Jose with her husband, Nick Gialdini.

And then, in the fall of 2018, she was Sandy for Sunnyvale Community Players, and her love of theater returned, big time. She’s also done “Mamma Mia!” for San Jose Musical Theatre, and plans to be in “A Taffeta Christmas” at San Jose’s Tabard in December.

How much theater she continues to do “depends on my husband and I deciding to start a family,” she said.

Her husband Nick is a coach for the San Jose Barracuda, an American Hockey League team. They will have been married three years in September, but have been together since high school.

“I was more eager to start a family before I started theater again,” Gialdini said. “It’s always been my passion. It’s fun to do something for me. I’m glad I started again.”

Not that she’s exactly been hiding somewhere. She sings the national anthem for the Sharks, once a month for the last ten seasons, and also has sung for the Earthquakes, the 49ers, the San Jose Giants, and the City of Santa Clara.

The notoriously tinny sound in the Shark Tank wasn’t a problem, she said. But, “Levi’s Stadium was crazy! I needed headphones, there was so much delay in the sound.”

The version of “Cinderella” being staged by Foothill still has the music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, but the book fleshes out a more politically aware story, in which Cinderella must open the prince’s eyes to the injustices in his kingdom.

The cruel stepmother has still forced Cinderella into a life of servitude, and a fairy godmother is still called upon to transform her into a fancy lady for the ball. There are some new characters, and one of the stepsisters has a streak of nice.

Carey talked about how she came to cast Gialdini for the role. “We had so many talented actresses come in. Then that subjective quality comes up. She has perfect singing quality, can dance … and is generous, open and kind.”

John Orr is a member of the America Theatre Critics Association. Email him at [email protected]


What: “Cinderella”

By: Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Douglas Carter Beane

Director: Milissa Carey

Music direction: Daniel Feyer

Choreographer: Lee Ann Payne

Featuring: Christina Lea, Edward Clark, Jasmine Johnson, Melissa Gialdini, Gwyneth Forrester, Angela Ceseña, Jomar Martinez, Vic Prosak, Juan Castro. Ensemble: Lourdes Arteaga, Dee Baily, Melissa Brown, Dan Cardenas,Helena Clarkson, Nick Conrad, Lauren D’Ambrosio, Rodrigo Diaz, Naomi Evans, Kimberly Kay, Sidney Kenny, Justin Kerekes, Marcus Kropp, Cameron Mayes, Jamari McGee, Jaime Melendez, Gianna Morales, Sam Nachison, Amanda Nguyen, Jill Painter, Elena Panos, Tiffany Petrossi, John Ralston, Geoffrey Silk, Antonio Suarez, and Melissa Wilson.

When: July 18- Aug. 4

Where: Smithwick Theatre, I-280 & El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills

Tickets: $15-$36; or 650-949-7360

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