By Gretchen Althoff Snyder
Daniel Pellegrini, a 6th grader at Rye Middle School, didn’t expect a life-changing experience to arise from a bullying incident on the playground. Born and raised in Rye, Daniel, a quiet, sensitive and kind 11 year-old, had a run-in with some other boys one day after school. While Daniel told his mother Laura about the incident later that evening, she said “he kind of brushed it off, not making that big a deal of it.” Daniel was clearly affected by the incident, says Laura, but he was having a hard time explaining exactly how he was feeling.
Later that week, while Laura was doing laundry, Daniel handed his mom his cell phone with the song “Waving Through a Window” from “Dear Evan Hansen” — a Broadway musical about a socially anxious high school boy — cued up.
All he said to her was, “Does this help?” After listening to the powerful lyrics, Laura was moved to tears and finally understood what was going on with her son:
<“On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
I’m waving through a window
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?”>
Soon after the incident, which was swiftly addressed by the school, Daniel told his mom he wanted to enter the Rye’s Got Talent competition. Laura was very supportive, but slightly surprised when he said he wanted to sing “Waving Through a Window”; because he had never taken singing lessons or performed any song in front of an audience, other than his immediate family.
Fortunately, close friend Anthony Valbiro, a singer, producer, and director, jumped right in and gave Daniel a “crash course” (four lessons to be exact) on vocal technique and stage performance. “I was there at his age, very heavily made fun of, but I found my way out through theater and singing,” recalls Valbiro. He told Daniel, in no uncertain terms, “When you get on that stage, no one can hurt you.”
Daniel says he was more excited than nervous the evening of the talent show. Valbiro notes that despite the short time frame for preparation, “he was ready – he took direction so well and trusted the process.” The cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” caught wind of Daniel’s story, and tweeted him good luck wishes throughout the competition. “That made me feel so great,” says Daniel. While Daniel did not win, he received a standing ovation from a packed house, with his family front and center.
After being interviewed by CBS News regarding Daniel’s story, Laura received a call from Stacy Mindich, the producer of “Dear Evan Hansen”. She’d seen the CBS news clip and told her: “We’re backstage, we’re all crying, we need to meet Daniel. He is our hero.” Mindich asked Laura to please bring Daniel to see the show.
On April 8, Daniel and his parents got the thrill of a lifetime: great seats at the blockbuster show, and a backstage visit after the performance. Daniel had the opportunity to chat with each of the cast members and take loads of photos — mom Laura notes the photos are not very good because “my hands were shaking so badly!” As a token of his appreciation, Daniel gave each of them a Rye Garnets scarf (generously donated by the Rye Girls’ Varsity Soccer team).
So, after a wild and exciting ride, what will Daniel do next? Other than going back to being a regular middle school kid, he enjoys acting and will continue to perform in plays and mentor special needs children at the Jewish Community Center in Scarsdale.
Daniel has since made up with the kids involved in the bullying incident. Talk about taking lemons and turning them into lemonade.
Daniel Pellegrini outside the Music Box Theatre