She’s known as the triple-threat from Hamilton. At just 13 years old, she has graced countless stages, won numerous competitions, and brought thousands to their feet to clap along.
This talented young woman is Gianna Harris, a Hamilton native. And in 2017, her career soared. In September, she began touring with the first national tour of School of Rock playing lead Tomika. The tour kicked off in Rochester, New York and has hit every city from Chicago to Tampa.
“I love the tour because I get to try something new…someone new,” Gianna said. This isn’t the first time she played a role in School of Rock. In March 2016, she made her Broadway debut in the musical as backup singer, Shonelle. She performed in eight shows a week and even had the chance to perform at the 2016 Tony Awards.
But long before School of Rock was even a thought, Gianna found her love for singing through the Wii.
“I had the Glee game…I was always just singing with my family,” she said about her 7-year-old self. By 8, her grandmother took notice of her singing talents and bought her a karaoke machine for her birthday.
“I really liked it. I sang a lot!” Gianna said with a laugh.
Within a few months of practically burning out the machine, Gianna bugged her parents, Ron and Linda, about getting vocal lessons. At first, they hesitated, but by her 9th birthday they gave in. She began her lessons with vocal coach Natalie Megules.
Although she doesn’t remember her first vocal audition ever, Gianna remembers her first big Broadway break.
“It was for Matilda,” she said. She auditioned twice: once for the show and once for the national tour. She didn’t get either part, but that was the last of “no’s” for the budding young talent.
A few months after she began vocal lessons, she auditioned for New Jersey’s Got Talent and tied for first. Here she picked up Debra Michaels as another vocal coach and mentor. Fast forward to 2015, and she placed second at Madison Square Garden during the Kidz Bop Talent Search. That same year, she performed in the acclaimed Apollo Theater after auditioning during an Amateur Night. And the list goes on for the accomplished 13-year-old.
Gianna began online schooling this past September. Alongside online schooling with Keystone School, she gets help from tutors. Her school days range from “sitting” in class two to six hours daily.
“I think it’s easier,” she said about online schooling compared to in-person teaching. “You don’t have to stay in the same place all day. I can get up and move around when I want and that helps a lot.”
Before this year, Gianna attended Yardville Heights and Grice Middle School while living in Hamilton. It was a balancing act going to school full-time while performing in a Tony-nominated Broadway show.
Now a typical week consists of traveling via plane, train or automobile late Sunday night or Monday, sound check Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and shows and school in the morning every day. Add in weekly vocal and dance lessons, and you have a typical Gianna week.
She usually only travels with just her mom, Linda, but her dad, Ron, and little brother, Carter, have joined her on the road. Her older brother, Derek, even tagged along to spend the holidays in Florida where they have extended family and also where she was touring at the time.
“When someone I know is in the audience I get nervous,” she said. “But I feel like this is a good thing. Nervous is better because I’m excited and I perform my best.”
Aside from work and school, Gianna still channels her past gymnast life through dance and still plays the ukulele. At the beginning of the tour, she was infatuated with the bass, so she decided to learn how to play it.
Her favorite singers range from Ariana Grande to Whitney Houston and Dianna Ross, and she loves singing Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
As for the next few months, Gianna will travel to San Francisco on tour, as well as Los Angeles. She will be with her School of Rock family through most of 2018. After the tour, Gianna “definitely, without a doubt” wants to stay with Broadway shows—either on tour or in New York.
Long term, she hopes to one day star in her favorite show, “Wicked.”
School of Rock’s U.S. tour will appear in Philadelphia, at the Academy of Music March 27 to April 1. For more information, go online to ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com.