If he keeps going at this rate, Newsies choreographer Christopher Gattelli will need an entire newspaper to catalogue his accomplishments.
When Newsies opens on March 29, it will be Gattelli’s ninth choreographic Broadway assignment since August 2006. That means he’s averaged a new Broadway show every 7½ months.
That includes the long-running 2008 South Pacific revival, for which he received a Tony nomination. “I had no expectation of winning,” he says. “South Pacific doesn’t even really have choreography; it’s just musical staging, which is how I was billed. Still, I’m glad that my contribution was recognized.”
Before he reached Broadway, Gattelli had fit in three off-Broadway hits. He’s since choreographed four more, directing two, including the current hit Silence! The Musical. Thus, in the last 11 years, more than 4,500 New York audiences have witnessed dances by Christopher Gattelli.
Over 2,000 of them came courtesy of Altar Boyz, the parody of Christian rock bands. “That one really got me noticed,” says Gattelli. “It’s a reason I was asked to choreograph Newsies.”
It started with a 2006 chance meeting between Gattelli and Jane Abramson, for whom he’d staged a musical at a fringe festival in 2003. (Yes, Gattelli’s been able to fit a few of those in, too.) In the interim, Abramson had become Creative Development Manager at Disney Theatrical Productions, and mentioned that Newsies was in the pipeline.
“She thought I’d be good for it,” says Gattelli. “I’d loved the movie when it first came out. I was really affected by those young boys who loved delivering newspapers until they were taken advantage of by a greedy publisher.”
Abramson recommended Gattelli to Steve Fickinger, vice president of Disney Theatrical Productions. “Luckily,” says Gattelli, “he’d caught Altar Boyz. He thought I was worth flying to San Francisco to see what I’d done with Martin Short’s show, Fame Becomes Me.”
Fickinger was impressed enough to have Gattelli meet Thomas Schumacher, president of the division.
Now the time came for Gattelli to impress. “I told Tom that the dancing couldn’t be precious. It had to be earthy and masculine. It also had to show that the kids took their work seriously, yes, but that they loved it, too. I wanted the energy that Michael Kidd would have given it.”
That Gattelli mentions Kidd, best-known for his rousing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers made in 1954, shows his knowledge of dance history.
“Well,” he says modestly, “when I was growing up in Bristol, Pennsylvania, I got into musicals early. Yes, I was Winthrop in The Music Man and Oliver, too. Then I got sidetracked from musicals when I moved to New York at 16 to become an Alvin Ailey dancer.”
But while he was learning classical and modern dance, Gattelli made time to see Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, which featured excerpts from 12 of the director-choreographer’s Broadway musicals.
“That’s when I realized that I could take to Broadway all of my ballet and modern dance training,” he says.
Obviously plenty have agreed.
Actually, Gattelli didn’t expect to be busy with Newsies this spring. He had been scheduled to choreograph his 10th Broadway show, the revival of Funny Girl. Once it failed to find financing, Newsies took up the slack and his time.
“I’m blessed,” he says, with a voice full of awe.
That’s true. But talent obviously has something to do with his success, too. If he keeps going at this rate, we may well see a show called Christopher Gattelli’s Broadway.
By Peter Filichia