All UC Berkeley students are busy, but some are busy while also starring in professional musicals. This is the case for Danielle Altizio, a sophomore theater and intended sociology major here at UC Berkeley. After performing in two professional shows over the summer, Altizio is now playing the lead female role of Polly in Bay Area Musicals’ production of “Crazy For You.”
The musical follows Bobby Child, a banker from New York, who is sent to a small town in Nevada to foreclose on a local theater. There, he meets and falls in love with Polly, the theater owner’s daughter, through a case of mistaken identity.
The music from George and Ira Gershwins is one of the reasons that “Crazy for You” is Altizio’s favorite musical. Along with this, she is drawn to the elements of traditional musical structure that the play embodies.
“It’s got this wholesome classic vibe to it where you know everything is gonna turn out all right, but they really have to go through it before they have that happy ending,” Altizio said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “It’s my favorite kind of show, the classic musical.”
Altizio fell into theater “by accident” in high school. After she ended up in a theater class her freshman year, she was captivated by the world, immersing herself in her school’s productions and in the local youth theater company. Once she came to UC Berkeley, she got involved with BareStage and the Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, or TDPS, department and its productions.
Eventually, she started auditioning for professional companies, mostly in San Francisco. This led to her landing the main role in “Crazy for You.” Having played the part of Polly while she was in high school where her theater career began, things have come somewhat full circle. Now, Altizio definitely sees theater in her future.
“I’ve met all kinds of cool people who have been on national tours and who have done amazing things, and I hope that that can be me one day,” Altizio said. “That would be the most fun thing, performing at that level. What really makes me happy is being onstage in musicals.”
Altizio is grateful for the technical training she has gained through TDPS. Her work in productions on campus has provided an educational experience that acted as a kind of preparation for her professional work.
“It’s educational in a different way, in the people you’re surrounded by. There’s no deliberate education going on, but you’re surrounded by people who are so brilliant, so talented and are just an encyclopedia of knowledge about musical theater,” Altizio said. “They have such an incredible history that you’re bound to pick up some of their tips and advice and some of the lessons that they’ve learned.”
One of these people she has learned from during the “Crazy for You” preparation is the production’s director, Matthew McCoy. With the help of McCoy, she has been able to dive deeper into Polly and the character’s arc.
“I think that Matthew is brilliant. He’s given me all kinds of advice on ways to get into the role that I hadn’t considered before — new themes of Polly’s journey that I wouldn’t have considered because there are other themes present that should be told,” Altizio said.
Fully understanding the complexity of Polly has been one of Altizio’s highest priorities while taking on this role. Getting to really know the character, which she describes as a good challenge, has been time-consuming. She wanted to make sure to put in the time and care to produce a fully fleshed-out female character.
“Polly is not a flat character. She’s not written as, nor should she be, a stereotype of a country, low-class woman. Despite her accent and despite her very straightforward way of thinking, there are levels to her that manifest in surprising ways,” Altizio said. “It’s been really important to me that Polly is a fully rounded woman, a person who has many emotions and responds to the way people speak to her, honestly and accurately.”
The complex nature of Polly reflects the nature of the play — a play made up of many different emotions despite its traditional, seemingly simple structure. Altizio believes these emotions come together to produce a joy. This joy is shared between the characters and the audience members alike.
“I think that for all the heartbreak and all the confusion, ‘Crazy for You’ is, at its heart, a very happy story,” Altizio said. “I think that when you leave, the joy that the characters are feeling onstage is just all for the audience. It’s not for us — it’s for you for coming on this journey with us, and, hopefully, you leave with some of the joy that we feel bringing it to life.”