'Newsies' choreographer draws on his background

Associated Press
In this March 29, 2012 photo provided by Disney On Broadway, choreographer Christopher Gattelli attends the opening night of the musical "Newsies" in New York. Gattelli, who just earned his second Tony Award nomination for the high-energy show, doesn’t actually need to be there and his work is technically long done. But the former dancer in Gattelli wants to make sure the young dancers are being safe. (AP Photo/Disney On Broadway)
.

View photo

In this March 29, 2012 photo provided by Disney On Broadway, choreographer Christopher Gattelli attends …

NEW YORK (AP) — Seventeen young dancers stop horsing around on the Nederlander Theatre stage as Christopher Gattelli approaches.

They've been practicing his high-energy moves in the empty house after a day off and Gattelli wants to make sure they're all feeling OK.

Is anything starting to hurt? If a jump is painful eight times a week, he reminds them, it can be changed. A transition can be adjusted. Don't forget to stretch, even between shows. Above all, stay safe.

The message is heard loud and clear. "We love you!" the 17 shout in unison.

Gattelli is not required to stop by the hit Broadway show "Newsies" these days, and he certainly isn't obligated to keep in touch with the dancers. But he was one and knows what they may be going through, especially as they add preparations for Tony Awards night.

"This is clearly a big month for them and I just want to say, 'Look, stay healthy,'" says Gattelli after the pep talk. "They're young and they think they're invincible. I've been there. I know that mentality."

Gattelli, 39, is a busy man these days — in addition to "Newsies," he's choreographed "Godspell" on Broadway, directed and choreographed the goofy parody "Silence! The Musical" off-Broadway, and is preparing to choreograph "Dogfight" at Second Stage Theatre next month. Later this year, he is choreographing "The Great American Mousical" for the Goodspeed Opera House.

But it's "Newsies," the stage adaptation of a 1992 Disney film, that seems to make him smile the most. It is, he thinks, the purest expression of the kind of dance he most enjoys — the thrilling combination of ballet spiced with bold athletic moves.

"This show means the most to me out of any project I've done because this is what I do. I trained as a ballet dancer and I trained as a modern dancer," he says. "I was these boys 20 years ago. This is exactly how I danced. So for me to tell a story in this way was the most comfortable and the most exciting for me."

The musical is based on the true story of scrappy child newspaper sellers in turn-of-the-century New York who go on strike when the price of papers goes up unfairly. They must battle scabs, crooked officials, business types like Joseph Pulitzer and fearsome strike breakers carrying metal pipes.

Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman, who were responsible for the film's score, teamed up again to transform "Newsies" into a musical for the stage, reworking the songs and collaborating with a new story writer, Harvey Fierstein, known for his work in "Hairspray" and "La Cage aux Folles." There's a new romance added, but cult characters like Specs and Crutchie remain. The show on Wednesday announced it would have an open-ended run, having found high interest at the box office for its original 12-week planned stand.

Some nifty touches have earned Gattelli a Tony nomination for best choreography, including a sequence of synchronized dancing on real newspapers and his carving out of a few moments for each young dancer to spotlight their talents.

"I had them show off in the audition room," he says. "I was like, 'Show me what you can do. I want to see everything you can do.' They each had to make sense in the story. But I wanted to see what they could do. At the end of the show, when they take their individual bow, you can literally go, boy by boy, that's who did that, that's who did that, that's who did that. I love being able to give that to them."

One of those performers is Ryan Steele, who plays Specs. "Newsies" is his third Broadway show, and he stuns the crowd by doing 20 turns on a newspaper, in addition to some lung-busting runs up and down three flights of stairs.

"I've never worked with a choreographer as wonderful and easy to work with as Chris. Those moments are real gifts," says Steele. "It's exhausting but it's so worth it. It's so much fun."

Next month, Gattelli faces off against fellow choreographers Rob Ashford of "Evita," Steven Hoggett from "Once" and Kathleen Marshall of "Nice Work If You Can Get It." It is Gattelli's second nomination, the previous one coming for his work in 2008 on "South Pacific."

Gattelli grew up outside Philadelphia in Bristol, Pa., and trained to be a dancer. Actually, make that really, really trained: He learned ballet from David Howard, modern dance from Alvin Ailey and also tackled jazz, hip-hop and tap.

At 15, he would take high-school classes until 11 a.m., be driven to Trenton, N.J., to hop on a train for New York, where he'd study Ailey, finishing at 6 p.m. Then he'd get on a bus at the Port Authority and start classes at Dance World Academy in New Jersey at 7:30 p.m. By 10 p.m., his father would pick him up for the drive home.

Though he loved all dance, Gattelli had intended to focus on ballet, but found his 5-foot-7 frame a major challenge. "In my head I thought, 'Well, I can take this technique and I can take this training and maybe I'll try Broadway,'" he recalls.

His first Broadway show was as a replacement in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" with Matthew Broderick, then parts in "Cats" and "Fosse." But he was already considering his future even before he sustained a back injury. "During 'Cats,' I started dabbling in choreography, thinking ahead: 'My body's not going to be able to do this forever. What will I do with my life?'"

A few one-night benefits got the attention of talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell, and she lured him to choreograph "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" for three seasons. He returned to choreograph "Bat Boy" off-Broadway and was soon hooked. "I would still audition for things every now and again, but I just love creating," he says. "The creation of it all — I fell in love with that."

When "Newsies" director Jeff Calhoun was given a short list of 10 potential candidates to choreograph the show, he was thrilled to see Gattelli's name. "Not only was he a great dancer, but he's a great storyteller," says Calhoun. "I didn't entertain another name on that list."

Gattelli approached the work with characteristic care. The dancers don't really move in unison at the beginning, only doing so when they've formed a union toward the end, with their feet pointed and their arms straight. They seem to leap with their chests, conveying their sense of pride. And when they show off with their back flips or spins, a sense of individuality remains.

"I know that it's rare to be in a show that can let you express yourself in the way that makes you special," he says. "That was a really important thing to me to be able to do for this group, especially with their talents — because they're insane."

That begs the question: Could Gattelli himself jump into the show if he had to? Could this former dancer do what he's choreographed?

"Not this one. Absolutely not," he says, laughing. "I'd be Crutchie."

___

Online:

http://newsiesthemusical.com

___

Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • The internet roasts a photo of Donald Trump writing his inauguration speech

      When times get tough, at least you can still meme. President-elect Donald Trump is slated to deliver his inauguration address on Friday, so he teased his Twitter followers with a little behind-the-scenes photo of himself writing a speech at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. SEE ALSO: Don's Johns: Port-a-potties get censored for Trump’s inauguration Writing my inaugural address at the Winter White House, Mar-a-Lago, three weeks ago. Looking forward to Friday. #Inauguration pic.twitter.com/S701FdTCQu — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2017 The staged photo and Trump's cold, dead gaze sent the internet straight into "meme mode alpha," where it was pointed out that Trump was actually holding Sharpie marker, which may or may not actually be closed. @realDonaldTrump that is a blank piece of paper and you're holding a closed sharpie pic.twitter.com/ekCcH8eTXe — Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) January 18, 2017 @cajunmonkey439 @realDonaldTrump It is *obviously* a sharpie. pic.twitter.com/gdD2AUhBKX — Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) January 18, 2017 .@realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/8CSroNshBR — XpeK (@peKofX) January 18, 2017 Surprised that you didn't just use this photo as your epic, bigly speech pic.twitter.com/SezwzToFg4 — Roland Scahill (@rolandscahill) January 18, 2017 good job @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/Ioj869Tfy3 — uhhh (@_uhhhhhhh) January 18, 2017 pic.twitter.com/pAKcXAEAkD — Sam Grittner (@SamGrittner) January 18, 2017 @realDonaldTrump #NotMyPresident #TheResistance #conflict #Putin #Inauguration In house security cam Mar a Lago pic.twitter.com/diwnpjAS3F — Beo Bachter (@kaysintBB) January 18, 2017 Early draft of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. #TrumpSpeech #MyFirstWordsAsPresident #MAGA pic.twitter.com/qgo1glv5cG — Tom ❄️ (@TommieWho) January 18, 2017 Exclusive sneak peek at Trump's inauguration speech! pic.twitter.com/6W6ex0Ks3z — Kara Calavera (@KaraCalavera) January 18, 2017 Trump's Inaugural address leaked... pic.twitter.com/J8soJQ4Ira — Jordan Uhl (@JordanUhl) January 18, 2017 Exclusive: #Trump's Inauguration speech leaked! #TrumpInaugural #trumpgrammar pic.twitter.com/XzrXXpnjxD — Gerry Stergiopoulos (@GerryGreek) January 18, 2017 According to CNN, Trump did write his inauguration speech himself. BONUS: NBD, just a massive alligator out for a stroll

      Mashable
    • Foreclosed mall once valued at $190M is auctioned for $100

      TARENTUM, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania mall that was foreclosed on after its owners failed to repay $143 million has been auctioned off for $100.

      Associated Press
    • Ex-president George H.W. Bush moved to intensive care; wife hospitalized

      Bush, who at 92 is the nation's oldest living ex-president, has been at Houston Methodist Hospital since Saturday after experiencing shortness of breath, family spokesman Jim McGrath said on Wednesday. Since then, Bush experienced an "acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia" and was sedated for the unspecified procedure, his office said.

      Reuters
    • Search Suspended for Dad and 3-Year-Old Son Swept Out to Sea as Wife Looked On

      Authorities had spent 22 hours searching for them by air.

      Inside Edition
    • Giant Florida Gator Is Not For Tourists, Nature Preserve Staff Warn

      Officials for the county's natural resources division said, although, they appreciate the attention the nature reserve has been getting, they are also worried about the safety of visitors and wildlife.

      International Business Times
    • Man Who Killed in Seattle Police Officer in Ambush Attack Found Dead in Prison

      The man convicted of ambushing and killing Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton on Halloween night in 2009, died in a Washington state prison on Wednesday.

      Tribune
    • North Korea's Kim Jong Un Is So Fat He Might Have Hurt His Ankle Again

      Kim's leg injuries have been linked to obesity in the past and recent pictures show the Korean leader appears to have put on extra weight. 

      International Business Times
    • Virginia man convicted of 2006 slaying of family is executed

      JARRATT, Va. (AP) — A man convicted of killing a family of four, slashing their throats and setting their home ablaze after they left their front door open while preparing for a New Year's Day party in 2006, was executed Wednesday.

      Associated Press
    • Donald Trump Tells Democrats Boycotting His Inauguration: Give Me Your Tickets

      'I don't want the celebrities there. I want the people there,' Trump spouted.

      Inside Edition
    • Hall of Famer Willie McCovey pardoned by Obama

      SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey has been pardoned by President Barack Obama on tax evasion charges from 1995.

      Associated Press
    • One Big Reason Not to Buy Nintendo Switch

      The Nintendo Switch is a pretty versatile gaming machine, but don't count on it replacing your home streaming box anytime soon. According to several reports, Nintendo's $299 portable/home console hybrid won't have any significant entertainment features when it releases on March 3, meaning you'll have to get your Netflix and Hulu fix elsewhere. Business Insider spoke to Nintendo's Kit Ellis, who said that the Switch "won't have many multimedia features at launch." While this doesn't rule out the possibility of popular streaming apps coming to the platform later this year, it seems like you'll be strictly playing games on the Switch on release date (and besides the stunning new Zelda title, there aren't many notable launch games).

      Tech Media Network (Tom's Guide)
    • Cowboys delay talk of Romo's future, likely knowing answer

      FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Those closest to Tony Romo on the Cowboys aren't ready to discuss the future of the Dallas quarterback, probably because they know the likely final answer.

      Associated Press
    • Undocumented worker sues San Francisco for violating sanctuary law

      The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday on behalf of Pedro Figueroa Zarceno, 32, in federal court in San Francisco against the city and its police chief for violating his right to due process and breaking an ordinance barring municipal employees from cooperating with federal immigration authorities seeking to deport a person. Figueroa walked into a police station in November 2015 to report his car stolen, according to the lawsuit. The civil action comes as San Francisco and dozens of other U.S. cities face pressure from President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Friday, to abandon their policies of limiting cooperation between law enforcement officers and U.S. immigration authorities.

      Reuters
    • Commentator: Hillary Clinton is the legitimate president

      HuffPo contributor Alex Mohajer argues that a federal judge should intervene because Russian hackers swayed the election and the popular vote makes Hillary Clinton 'The People's President.' Tucker takes him on in a spirited debate #Tucker

      FOX News Videos
    • Anger at skeletal sun bears in Indonesian zoo

      Animal rights activists Wednesday demanded the closure of an Indonesian zoo after skeletal sun bears were pictured begging for food from visitors and eating their own dung. The bears at the zoo in the city of Bandung were shown waving their arms in the air inside their enclosure -- with their ribs visible through their fur -- as people hurled food at them. Many of Indonesia's zoos are poorly maintained and there are regular reports of animals dying in captivity.

      AFP
    • Teen Abducted 18 Years Ago Says She Will Have '2 Moms,' but Still Loves Accused Kidnapper

      She says she speaks to the accused kidnapper every day despite the woman's arrest for abducting her 18 years ago.

      Inside Edition
    • Deadly waves sweep father, son out to ocean, show dangers

      SALEM, Ore. (AP) — One moment, Jayson Thomas was on the Oregon beach with his 3-year-old son. The next, they were gone, swept away by a "sneaker wave" as his wife looked on.

      Associated Press
    • J.K. Rowling has a cutting response to Trump's quote about 'heroes'

      LONDON — It's surely only a matter of time before Donald Trump goes on a wild, 5am Twitter rant about J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter author has been aiming a steady campaign of social media-based ribbing at the President-elect for a while now — and in the last week her volume of Trump-based burns have really peaked. SEE ALSO: J.K. Rowling just burned Donald Trump for the 2nd time in 24 hours This one started when journalist Daniel Dale shared an extract from Michael Gove's recent interview with Trump. The question was one about heroes. Trump was asked if he has any heroes. Answer: https://t.co/3idRsQFQoN pic.twitter.com/yGyjx1q1Bl — Daniel Dale (@ddale8) January 16, 2017 That's a lot of rambling to pick apart, but — luckily — J.K. Rowling was on hand to condense it into a helpful 140 characters: "Heroes? Me, because I am innately awesome and you can't learn this, but a bit my dad, who must've been kinda ok, cos he made me." https://t.co/WYJQ8chAxd — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 17, 2017 Ouch. Throughout the morning, Rowling has continued tweeting about Trump. @jk_rowling it is a sad life when one does not have heroes. — zeckle3 (@zeckle3) January 17, 2017  https://t.co/5z1V1TsYBm — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 17, 2017 Almost everyone in Europe dreads the Trump presidency. Everyone, except fascists - @alexmassie in @politicohttps://t.co/EzhdXUkNj4 — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 17, 2017 @jk_rowling @alexmassie @politico What if you’re neither dreading Trumps presidency or a fascist? — Luke Parker (@MrLParker) January 17, 2017 Then I want some of what you're smoking. https://t.co/pcXzOf1JZm — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 17, 2017 We're calling it: he's going to tweet something negative about Harry Potter any day now.  It's only a matter of time. BONUS: J.K. Rowling weighs in hard on the Donald Trump/Meryl Streep feud

      Mashable
    • 'General Hospital' star Ryan Paevey talks soap role, photography hobby

      Actor Ryan Paevey, who plays Nathan West on the ABC soap "General Hospital" discussed the show and his outside interests in a visit to the Eyewitness News set.

      KABC – Los Angeles