Franca Vercelloni started piano lessons at age 4. As she practiced on her grandfather's 80-year-old lime-green upright player piano, she excelled, and, at the age of 16, she won the New York State Music Teachers Association high school piano competition, even though she had a memory slip and left out half of Debussy's L’Isle Joyeuse. Her musicianship won the judges’ favor.
Franca made her stage debut as an angel in her Catholic school Christmas pageant at age 5. When she landed the role of Towncrier in the Missoula Children’s Theatre production of Cinderella at age 10, the first laugh she received onstage at Rome’s Capitol Theatre pretty much dictated her career.
Throughout middle and high school, she played many roles in musicals and children’s theatre at her local Capitol Theatre in Rome and at the Hampton Playhouse in Hampton, New Hampshire. The Playhouse was owned by Alfred Christie and John Vari, two New York actors and educators who regularly worked with members of the Group Theatre and The Actors Studio. John Vari worked extensively with Harold Clurman and Eugene O'Neill, and instilled many of their values in his students. Very often, Franca and her Playhouse friends would sneak into the theatre late at night to hold jam sessions, where they would sing songs from a million musicals, with Franca at the piano. This was an excellent training ground for the job Franca found as an adult, playing the piano at New York’s famed sing-along piano bar, Marie’s Crisis.
Franca acted, sang, danced and accompanied singers, instrumentalists and ensembles throughout high school. She gained entrance into the New York State School Music Association All-State Conference Choir two years in a row, and was the only student from her high school selected for the prestigious All-Eastern Conference Choir. She also learned how to play the organ, and was a church organist throughout high school. Her love of theatre and music influenced her decision to become a music director in theatre, so she went to study piano performance at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music -- the Juilliard of the Midwest! As she followed this path, she realized that she really wanted to become an actor, so she took the next train to NYC and started working for James Lipton at the Actors Studio Drama School at New School University. She ran the administrative office for this MFA program and met her first New York acting teacher, Doug Moston. Doug become a dear friend and mentor, and was the first person to make Franca aware of the musicality of Shakespeare’s words.
Franca joined AFTRA at the recommendation of a friend who told her “being in a union will really make you feel like a professional actor; you will take more pride in your work and take yourself more seriously.” A couple of years later, Franca joined SAG after booking her second television commercial (for Commerce Bank, with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) and was able to join Actors’ Equity Association one year later. Franca joined Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians when she was cast as the replacement bandleader in the Off-Broadway production of Tony n’Tina’s Wedding.
Franca gained possession of her grandfather’s accordion around the same time she heard that there was an all-female accordion orchestra performing at the old Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She could not gain entrance to this sold-out show, but she tracked down the conductor of this crazy-sounding ensemble, Walter Kuehr, hoping to get accordion lessons and join the gang. Walter became Franca’s accordion teacher and dear friend, and once Franca joined the Main Squeeze Orchestra, she also made arrangements of songs and sang with the group. Two of her arrangements can be heard on Main Squeeze Orchestra’s debut CD.
Franca has made a name for herself in recent years as a pianist at Marie’s Crisis, New York’s gem of a musical theatre sing-along dive bar. From behind this piano, she has had the honor of leading thousands of people from all walks of life – actors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, servers, activists and tourists – in deliriously wild choruses of songs from the American musical theatre canon. Franca’s experience with improv, sketch and stand up comedy, combined with the material she has acquired during her years behind the Marie’s Crisis piano, led her to create Classically Trained, Practically Broke, a solo show with original songs, which was a sold-out hit at The Club at LaMama in The New York International Fringe Festival.