When Mariah Carey needed a child actress to sing her “Oh Santa” in “A Christmas Melody,” she signed Broadway’s “Matilda: The Musical” star.
Nine-year-old Fina Strazza had recently finished an 11-month run in New York’s Shubert Theater when she got the call for the Hallmark Channel movie Carey is appearing in and directing in Cincinnati this month.
It came just in time. Fina was en route to meet with a theater director when her agent and manager called to say, “Turn around! You’re going to Ohio!”
Fina, in her first major TV role, plays Emily Parson, daughter of a single mother (Lacey Chabert) who recently moved back home to fictional Silver Lake. Carey, who appears as the diva PTA president, rewrote lyrics to her 2010 “Oh Santa” hit for Fina to sing at the Silver Lake Elementary Snowflake Pageant.
“It made me nervous when I first met her. But then she put me at ease when we got into the recording booth,” said Fina during a break in filming Sunday at Kilgour Elementary School in Mount Lookout. (Here’s a link to my story about Mariah Carey filming Sunday.)
“It’s amazing to work with a musical icon.”
The Grammy-winning pop star isn’t the biggest icon Fina met this year. When Barack Obama attended a fund-raiser at her neighbor’s residence in New York City last spring, the president visited her too.
“My sister taped a sign on the door that said, ‘Please knock!’ ” Fina said.
“It’s been an incredible year,” said her mother, Rana Strazza, who showed me a video of Obama talking to her daughter that day. “I don’t tell people about it because it’s truly amazing.”
A music video of Fina’s “Oh Santa” is in the works by “A Christmas Melody” executive producers Brad Krevoy and Jonathan Axelrod.
“It’s going to be a sensation around America,” said Krevoy, who produced Nicollette Sheridan’s “The Christmas Spirit” in Lebanon two years ago for the Hallmark Channel.
Fina starred on Broadway in “Matilda: The Musical” from August 2014 through July. She made her movie debut last year in “A Little Game” with Janeane Garofalo, Ralph Macchio, Rachel Dratch, Olympia Dukakis and F. Murray Abraham.
When I asked if she liked Broadway or films better, the fifth grader answered like an old pro:
“I like plays a lot, because you get to see what happens if you mess up. You can see the improv if something happens. And then in film, you get to retry (the scene) when you make mistakes. So I like both of them a lot. One you get to retry, the other you get to have a little fun. I’m not sure which I like better, because they’re very different.”
Unlike the immediate gratification from a Broadway play, movies stars have to wait months to see their films. For this little girl, who loved playing in the Washington Park playground while in town, can’t wait until the week before Christmas. That’s when “A Christmas Melody” premieres 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, on the Hallmark Channel.
“I really can’t wait to see it. I want to see it so badly,” she says. “When it comes out, I want all my friends to see it.”
Filming wraps Thursday on "A Christmas Melody."