PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Christopher Gattelli, 2012 Tony Nominee for Newsies' Choreography

By Kenneth Jones
05 May 2012

Kara Lindsay and the newsboys.
Photo by Deen van Meer

Beyond the dancing, the show is a huge cardio workout. There are — what? — three flights of stairs on Tobin Ost's set? They are running up those stairs.
CG: The stairs! And then they're on, like, the fifth floor in the dressing room. [Laughs.] Yeah, they're all over the place with the set. Thank God for Tobin and his genius idea. But, yeah, they're up and down the stairs and they're tapping. And then, what a lot of people don't talk about, which I find is almost the most impressive thing in the show, is the fight sequence after "Seize the Day." These guys have just done a full act. They just did one of the biggest dance numbers they could do, including all of their technique and everything, and then they go into a full-on fight with the scabs and the goons — they're doing full-on stage combat — a stage of twenty men throwing barrels and sliding and driving bats!

You can't be pushing 40 and dancing this show, can you?
CG: No! [Laughs.] I don't think I could do it. They're resilient. [When creating the choreography,] I tried to protect them and their bodies. I said, "You're talented, and I want you in the show...so let's be really smart about how we construct this and what we honestly can do eight times a week."

What debt do you owe the 1992 film, and original choreographer Kenny Ortega, visually or dance-wise?
CG: I absolutely was inspired by it. I was [our Newsies] boys' age when it came out. I'm 39, so it was 20 years ago — I was their age. At the time, we didn't have YouTube, we didn't have these ways of seeing [dramatic dance] … So I go to the [movie] theatre and I see hundreds of boys dancing. They're all amazing. They're all incredible, doing things that like a lot of us couldn't do — pushing the boundaries of what we could do, physically. And to see the way Kenny utilized that to help tell the story, it was completely inspiring — and I think it helped pushed me to do what I do now.



 

Members of the Newsies company
photo by Deen van Meer

Are there iconic dance moves from the film that are borrowed? Choreographers steal, right?
CG: Not necessarily. Kenny made [the dancing] a little more anachronistic. Because of the time, it was '91, MTV was in full — Paula Abdul was popular. It had a little more funk in it, a little more synchronized dancing. When we took another look at it, we wanted it to be a little more grounded in musical theatre. For me, I wanted it to be a little more grounded in ballet and technique. The boys — even though they're rough and scrappy and they live on the streets — they still take pride in their work. Even though they're young, there's a sense of pride in what they do — delivering the papers the best they can, earning a living the best way they know how. That's the way I thought they should handle their physicality.

Discipline.
CG: It's discipline. And, if we're going to physically express ourselves through this, we're going to do it really well and not kind of like messy. They would have pride in the way they're going to tell this. That's why I was really adamant about using ballet.

Stage and film choreographer Michael Kidd, who did the film of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," must have inspired you — he was the best of both those worlds, balletic and athletic.
CG: He pushed the guys in those movies. They all could do double tours. They could all do this phenomenal masculine dancing, so he was a big inspiration to me for this show.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)

Watch the Playbill Video "2012 Tony Nominee Christopher Gattelli Gets Newsies Moving":