Thursday, July 2, 2015

News: A dancing Bristol boy picks up a Tony

Christopher Gattelli, A Bristol boy who began dancing lesson when he was eight, took home a Tony on Sunday night for his choreography of "Newsies."

News: A dancing Bristol boy picks up a Tony

0 comments
Blog Image
Christopher Gattelli at the Tony Awards on Sunday night in New York. (Photo by Charles Norfleet.)

By Howard Shapiro

Inquirer Staff Writer

Christopher Gattelli's parents dropped him off when he was 8 at Knecht Dance  Academy in Levittown, which operates now as it did then, a place for kids to  learn dance. But it wasn't Gattelli who was taking dancing lessons. It was his younger sister, Kristen.

"My parents had to run errands or something, and they said just stay here  with your sister for the hour," says Gattelli, now 39, who won this year's Tony  Award for choreography Sunday night. "I was a kid who played baseball and soccer. I was watching my sister, watching her dance, and thought, ‘That looks  like fun. Why can't I do that?' "

Gattelli asked his parents. They told him they didn't know he wanted to. He  began lessons, and as they say, the rest ...

Well, the rest is never really simple history, but Gattelli's trajectory over  three decades to a Tony Award for the dancing he created in the Broadway musical Newsies is like a snowball's on a hillside, an image he himself uses to describe  it.

In his early teens, the Bristol boy knew he had a knack for dancing, and that  included tap, jazz, ballet, modern — all the elements that can be molded into  show dancing.

At Bristol High School, Gattelli's parents arranged a special program for  their son. He would study there part of the day, then go to Trenton, hop the New Jersey Transit train to New York, study there at the school run by Alvin Ailey,  then return in the evening.

By his senior year at Bristol High, he was dancing at Radio City Music Hall, one of the high-kickers in the Christmas show, and then in the Easter show.  Additionally, "I had accrued all my credits to graduate except for only one  course, English."

Though by then he was coming home only once every few weeks, he nevertheless did the reading and wrote the papers, and graduated with his class in 1991.

From then on, Gattelli was a New Yorker, and a dancer who never lacked for  work. He may not have realized it at the time, but a network began forming at  Radio City, of choreographers and assistant choreographers who would work with  him, be wowed by his versatility, and bring up his name when casting directors  were looking for dancers.

That's why he said in his Tony acceptance speech Sunday — a clip of which was  on the national telecast, because choreography was awarded earlier in the  evening — that he thanked everyone he had ever worked with.

"I looked out into that audience and there were all those faces I know — all  these people, and I learned from every experience."

----- 

In 1997, after he'd danced in Cats, a revival of How to Succeed in Business  Without Really Trying, and other shows, folks who had worked with Gattelli asked  him to choreograph the opening number of a benefit for Broadway Cares, a major  effort of the Broadway community and other theater artists who raise money to  support AIDS service organizations, the Actors Fund, and other charities.

It was Gattelli's first choreography since he was a kid in Bristol, when he  helped arrange dances for younger students. The number, in which a 94-year-old  former Ziegfeld gal joined the ensemble in a tap dance, made its way to Rosie  O'Donnell's daytime talk show — like Gattelli, she'd been a winner on Ed  McMahon's Star Search when she was younger. Gattelli became the show's  choreographer, also setting dances on O'Donnell's performances at Disney World  and Universal Studios.

"I pretty much stopped dancing and focused on choreography," says Gattelli,  who went on to make dances for Off-Broadway shows. One of them, Adrift in Macao, he'd already choreographed for Philadelphia Theatre Company in 2005; another,  the Off-Broadway hit Altar Boyz, he reprised three years ago when he directed  the show, with his original choreography, at Bristol Riverside Theatre.

"It was a really great moment for me," says Gattelli, "to be able to come  home to do that show I was really proud of."

Among his Broadway choreographing successes are the revivals of South Pacific and Sunday in the Park With George, the current revival of Godspell, and, of  course, Disney's Newsies.

The dancing in Newsies is thrilling — hands down the best dancing in all of  Broadway's new shows, a mix of jumps and flips and intricate steps that Gattelli  set on a cast of ace Broadway dancers who play New York newsboys of more than a  century ago.

In one of its showstopping numbers, the boys decide to strike against the  city's publishing giants, who want to increase what the boys have to pay for the  papers they sell. (There was such a strike, an early American union action.) In  the dance, the newsboys rip newspaper sheets in half, then dance defiantly and  joyously on them.

For Gattelli and his choreographer assistant, Lou Castro, every step had to  be part of the story. "I told the gentlemen, there's a lot of dance in this  show, and you tell me if there's anything that doesn't feel honest" — a demand a  choreographer made once of Gattelli as a dancer. Through that dance — to a song  called "Seize the Day" — "comes a confidence in them becoming one," Gattelli  says.

"We literally broke the dance up in stages of the boys' maturity [in their  decision to strike]," he says. "First, we have them coming together, then the  defiance, then the confidence they get, then becoming cocky about it, then celebrating the first time they see that something good comes from a unit."

Gattelli's dissection — the sort of thinking about dance that fits it into a  plot and enlarges its characters — can lead to great musical theater. Also, a Tony Award.

 

Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or  hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at  go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network,  www.wwfm.org.



0 comments
We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue.
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines.

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Read 0 comments
 
comments powered by Disqus
About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

Philly Stage
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
letter icon Newsletter