Musical theatre alumna returns to McCarter Theatre for role in 'Gloria'

Gabrielle Beckford ’17 previously had a lead role in 'Crowns'
Adam Grybowski

Gabrielle Beckford ’17, who received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Rider, will return to McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., this September playing the role of Fedna in Gloria: A Life.

The production features an all-female cast that helps tell the story of the writer and political activist Gloria Steinem, a leader of the feminist movement since the 1960s.

“This production is going to have an impact when audiences see it live,” Beckford says. “It will make you react — and that’s what the theater is for.”

A native of Queens, N.Y., Beckford grew up singing and acting in church but she probably would have never studied musical theatre if a teacher didn’t notice her singing during a talent show in high school. At the time, Beckford’s future could have taken a wildly different direction. She was considering a career as a podiatrist.

Beckford laughs about that now. “I was only thinking about making money,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking of what would bring me joy.”

When she was cast in her first production, still as a high-school student, she recalls, “It just synced, and I felt that this was what I was supposed to be doing.”

She enrolled at Rider and developed her chops, working closely with Miriam Mills, an associate professor in the University’s Department of Theatre and Dance. “She saw the potential I didn’t see in myself,” Beckford says. “She helped shaped me into the actress I am today. At Rider, you feel like you’re taken care of, and they nurture you into becoming the best artist you can be.”

Immediately after graduating, Beckford traveled to Colorado and performed in the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts’ summer season, which included Aida, Hairspray, Big River and Sister Act. She signed with Hudson Artists Agency following those experiences, which led to her auditions for last spring’s performance of Crowns at McCarter. She landed a lead role, Yolanda, a teenager from Chicago who spends the summer in South Carolina with a grandmother who exposes her to her heritage and family roots.

“With the staff at McCarter, there’s a mutual level of respect, and you feel so safe and comfortable and ready and willing and able to trust them,” she says. “It was a great start to my acting career.”

With Crowns, Beckford was able to work with the show’s original creator, Regina Taylor, who directed it at McCarter on its 15th anniversary. For Gloria, Beckford is working under the direction of McCarter's Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann, who is currently in her 30th and final season at McCarter.

“Emily is a brilliant woman and the most humble person,” Beckford says. “She’s open in her willingness to work with you to make the play an even richer story.”

Returning to McCarter for a second time, Beckford is aware of her own growth as an artist. “A year ago, I was a younger, maybe even more naive version of myself,” she says. “I have more confidence now and I’m adapting and growing into who I am as an actress. I have a vision for where I see myself going and feel empowered to keep going and embracing every aspect of this business. The work never stops.”

Gloria premiered earlier this year with an acclaimed Off-Broadway run produced by Daryl Roth. It runs Sept. 6-Oct. 6 and is produced in association with American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.

“Gloria Steinem is an iconic woman,” Beckford says, “and the topics that this play addresses are so relevant today and hit home in so many ways.”