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Gangster in Paradise

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  • | 5:00 a.m. November 10, 2010
"I like being on stage in the spotlight," Holly Rizzo says. "I like everyone watching me. I can't really explain why. You're either that type of person or you're not."
"I like being on stage in the spotlight," Holly Rizzo says. "I like everyone watching me. I can't really explain why. You're either that type of person or you're not."
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Holly Rizzo is sitting in a diner on Anna Maria Island, neatly eating a messy stack of chocolate-chip banana pancakes.

It’s 9 a.m. and the sun is beginning to poke through a smattering of dark clouds hanging over the Gulf of Mexico.

If Rizzo — an eighth-grader at King Middle School, in Bradenton — hadn’t skipped her first period morning news class, she’d be forecasting a slight chance of precipitation right now, discussing the state’s gubernatorial election and making school announcements.

Instead, the 13-year-old Anna Maria Island resident is sitting across from her mother, Natalia, in a restaurant where her cousin used to waitress, explaining what it’s like to play Young Bonnie in the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s “Bonnie & Clyde.”

Rizzo’s day is off to a pretty good start.

Between the banana pancakes, the waterfront ambience and tonight’s costume and wig fittings, you’d think the teen would be bouncing off the walls. Yet, she’s as composed as a veteran stage actress making the obligatory interview rounds before the opening of her next big revue.

Her composure makes her seem older. The fact that she doesn’t overuse the word “like” and doesn’t pine for a show on the Disney Channel makes her seem oddly levelheaded for an actress her age.

“This is just a hobby for now,” Rizzo says of theater. “I’m looking into becoming a doctor.”

Her mother, amused by this declaration, explains that her husband, a radiologist, plays the guitar in a local band for fun. He often accompanies Rizzo and her older sister whenever they perform their Broadway showtune act — “Trina and Holly’s Century of Broadway” — at area retirement communities.

“My sister is more the type that dreams about being in the movies or being a Broadway star,” Rizzo says of her 17-year-old sister, Trina Rizzo, who earlier this fall starred in “The Fantasticks,” at The Players Theatre. “I don’t even think about it that much. I’m more real-to-life. I just assume I’ll go to the University of Florida, go to med school and become a doctor. Maybe that’ll change in the future. I don’t know.”

She digs into her pancakes and shrugs off the notion that one day, despite her pragmatism, she’ll be a star.

“It would be fun,” she says quietly, cutting off the fantasy at the pass.

Rizzo, a straight-A student and president of the National Junior Honor Society, beat out dozens of girls for the part of Young Bonnie.

The auditions were so hush-hush, the only details Rizzo was aware of before the second callback was that the Asolo was casting for a pre-Broadway musical.

“I figured it had to be a good show if it was going to Broadway,” she says.

After a grueling six-month audition process, five callbacks and one videotaped performance, the teen received news in September that she would be sharing the role of Young Bonnie with 14-year-old Broadway actress Kelsey Fowler (“Mary Poppins,” “Grey Gardens,” “Sunday in the Park with George”).

She was sitting in her sister’s room watching the movie “Precious” when she got the call.

“We were all excited,” Rizzo says. “I was jumping up and down. It was such a long audition process, I thought I’d never get it.”

The musical marks Rizzo’s Asolo Rep debut.

A self-described “theater kid,” Rizzo landed her first role at age 7 — as the youngest princess in “The King and I” at The Manatee Players. She’s since performed on stage at The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, the Island Players and The Players Theatre.

“Bonnie & Clyde,” however, is different.

Not only is Rizzo playing one of the country’s most notorious gun molls, she’s playing the outlaw as a young girl, whose poor, dysfunctional Texas childhood is totally unlike her own.

“The main thing I’m trying to do is show how Bonnie was drawn into a life of crime,” Rizzo says. “That she had a spark, that she wanted to be famous, but not for being a criminal.”

Natalia Rizzo has her own take on what attracted her teenage daughter to Bonnie Parker.

Long after the two have left the restaurant and Rizzo has been fitted for her Depression-era costume and auburn bob, Natalia Rizzo suggests that her well-behaved daughter has a rebel itch to scratch.

“Holly is one of the nicest, sweetest kids out there,” Natalia Rizzo says. “She’s friends with everyone. She never gets in trouble. She’s mortified if she ever does anything wrong. I think she secretly wants to be kind of bad. I think this is fun for her.”


Holly Rizzo has performed the national anthem before several sporting events, including a Tampa Bay Rays game.
• Rizzo and her Young Bonnie counterpart, Kelsey Fowler, went trick-or-treating together this Halloween. Rizzo dressed as a fairy, and Fowler dressed as a tissue box.
• Because of her older appearance, Rizzo is frequently cast as a 20-something.
• Rizzo’s “Bonnie & Clyde” script has undergone countless revisions since the cast began rehearsing three weeks ago. “There are five men at a table, typing in the background as we rehearse,” Rizzo says. “You never know when they’ll add a scene or cut a scene.”


“Bonnie & Clyde” runs Nov. 12 to Dec. 19, at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. For tickets, call 351-8000 or visit

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].




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