One Schenectady teenager has just made herself millions of nerdy fans. In a scene-stealing moment from Season 3 of Netflix’s Stranger Things, which premiered on the streaming service July 4 weekend, main character Dustin jumps on the walkie with his new girlfriend, Suzie, and shares a hilarious duet of The NeverEnding Story theme with her (see below). At this point, actor Gaten Matarazzo, who portrays Dustin, is a household name, but you would’ve likely had to search IMDB.com to figure out who plays Suzie. Locals Upside Downers will be surprised to find that she’s played by none other than 16-year-old Schenectady native Gabriella Pizzolo, who already has quite the performing arts résumé under her belt.
Pizzolo, who’s made a name for herself on Broadway and performed at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), is proud of her Capital Region roots. “Schenectady is great, and I couldn’t think of a better place to grow up,” Pizzolo tells saratoga living. Like a lot of performers, Pizzolo got her start in local community theater, landing roles in the Schenectady Light Opera Company and Classic Theater Guild, also in Schenectady. Pizzolo developed the singing voice that made her a star on Stranger Things from voices lessons at Craig Elementary in Niskayuna, where she also acted in school plays. “The music teachers there were very helpful, and they taught me so much,” says Pizzolo. “I’m incredibly grateful for them.”
Pizzolo also credits a pair of local venues for helping spark her initial love of the theater. “I absolutely love Proctors and all its plays, and SPAC too,” she says. In 2013, Pizzolo made her SPAC debut in a performance of George Balanchine’s Garland Dance with the New York City Ballet. “Having an outlet for theater and performance so close to me really enhanced my love for theater,” says Pizzolo. “And I got to see what happens both backstage and onstage.” The Schenectady native still buys her pointe shoes from Saratoga Dance, Etc. on Church Street in Saratoga Springs. “One of my favorite things about Saratoga is the pointe shoe statues that are all around town,” she says.
In 2013, the same year she debuted at SPAC, Pizzolo broke through on Broadway. At just the age of ten, she starred as the titular character in the hit Broadway show Matilda the Musical, an adaptation of the beloved young adult novel by Roald Dahl. “I felt so lucky and so honored to be on Broadway,” says Pizzolo. “I definitely couldn’t have done it without everybody around me.” That big break, it turns out, almost didn’t happen. Pizzolo was passed over the first time she auditioned for the role. But that didn’t stop her from pursuing her dream. When the Broadway role became available again, she auditioned a second time and nailed it. “I like to live in the mindset that rejection makes people stronger,” says Pizzolo. “So whenever rejection occurs, I try to use it and turn it into something good.”
Pizzolo ended up portraying Matilda for nearly a year. While in New York City, the Upstate New York native met another young, rising Broadway actor in Matarazzo. “A lot of the kids on Broadway would meet up and hang out,” says Pizzolo. “So he and I are great friends.” Flash-forward just five years and that connection to Matarazzo helped Pizzolo land the Stranger Things audition. “The [NeverEnding Story] scene was so well written that I could imagine watching it,” says Pizzolo, who’s been a fan of Stranger Things since it first landed on Netflix in 2016. “I recorded what I was thinking in my head and sent it [in].” Just a few weeks later, Pizzolo heard back; she’d been cast as Suzie.
Though not even three minutes long, that too-cute duet between Pizzolo and Matarazzo—which, by the way, helped save the world (at least in Stranger Things)—has proven to be a fan favorite as well as an internet sensation. Actress Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Eleven in the show, even dropped her own #NeverEndingChallenge on Instagram, inviting fans to show off their dance moves while watching the scene. The viral hashtag subsequently broke the Internet, even inspiring late night talk show rivals Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon to take on the challenge together. “One of my favorite things about the entire series is seeing what everyone else thinks about that scene,” says Pizzolo.
For Stranger Things fans searching for clues about Season 4, Pizzolo tells saratoga living that she doesn’t know yet if Suzie will be back, but she says she’d love to take on the role again. As for any other big projects she might have on the horizon, Pizzolo says she’s taking a bit of a breather. “Right now, I’m just focusing on enjoying summer vacation and becoming a junior,” she says. Hey, after helping save the world, who can blame her?