'Newsies' choreographer draws on his background

Wednesday June 6, 2012

NEW YORK -- 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.

Gattelli is not required to stop by the hit Broadway show "New sies" these days, and he certainly isn’t obligated to keep in touch with the dan cers. But he was one and knows what they may be going through, especially as they add pre parations for Tony Awards night Sunday.

"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" (for wuich he has justb wion a Drama Desk Award), 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. There’s a new romance added, but cult characters like Specs and Crutchie remain.

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.

On Sunday, 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."


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