He Could Have Danced All Night

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Tony Award-winning choreographer brings to life My Fair Lady

The company of My Fair Lady. (Photos by Joan Marcus)

Named the most beloved musical of all time and boasting 10 Tony nominations, My Fair Lady captures the hearts of everyone who enters the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli shares how he transported the audience to early 1900s England with every song and dance.

Gattelli made his way to New York City from Philadelphia at the age of 17, where he fell into the Broadway community at Radio City with the Rockettes. Working with inspiring choreographers fueled his passion for storytelling through dance and at 26 he landed his first professional job choreographing for The Rosie O’Donnell Show. That started Gattelli’s love of theatre and, according to him, “it’s been a great ride so far.”

Chris Gattelli

“I’m loving every second of it,” said Gattelli on choreographing the classic Broadway revival of My Fair Lady. “This is my fourth collaboration with Bart [Bartlett Sher, the director]. He asked me to do it and I jumped at the chance because it’s always an honor to work with him at Lincoln Center Theater.”

As a choreographer, Gattelli’s first approach to a project is storytelling and keeping the spirit of a scene is vital. For My Fair Lady, it was also important to keep everything prim, proper and period authentic when appropriate.

“They say in a musical when people stop speaking they have to sing and once they stop singing they dance so the story always has to keep going,” he said, adding that Sher allowed him to put his own stamp on the musical. “My Fair Lady is physically so much fun. You have the Viennese Waltz with the aristocracy, then the Cockneys dancing in the streets.”

Gattelli spoke of the brilliance behind Norbert Leo Butz’s (Alfred P. Doolittle) number, “Get Me To The Church on Time.” He said the actor was “fearless” and was willing to “try anything.”

“That was so freeing as a choreographer to create on someone like him. Norbert inspired my creativity and I loved every second of putting that number together,” said Gattelli of the free-for-all dance scene with the Cockneys, which had to be rough around the edges because of their class. “I tried to separate the classes so you felt a change in their tone and physicality. With Ascot, these people are elite and are there to be seen, so physically we had a lot of stride and stance and form. It was fun to sculpt and go through how they all stood in their gowns.”

Norbert Leo Butz as Alfred P. Doolittle and the company of My Fair Lady

The award-winning choreographer picked up a Tony for his work in Newsies in 2012 and this year, he is nominated for not one but two awards for My Fair Lady and Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical. He said his work was cut out for him, having luck in the past with South Pacific and The King and I, two other shows at Lincoln Center Theater. But Spongebob was a complete surprise.

Spongebob was so different; it came out of nowhere and I love watching the fans go crazy for the show because it’s so much fun and they appreciate the work that goes into the performance,” he said, circling back to the classic grandeur of My Fair Lady. “To me that’s when Lincoln Center Theater is at its best: with a 29-piece orchestra, a grand staircase and the entire company doing a classic Viennese Waltz. It’s something only Lincoln Center Theater can do and it always makes for an iconic moment.”

My Fair Lady plays at The Vivian Beaumont Theater in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex, located at 150 West 65th St., NYC. For tickets and showtimes, visit www.lct.org.

Also see LIW‘s interview with Jordan Donica, who plays Freddy in My Fair Lady

Jordan Donica: On The Street Where He Lives

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Jennifer Fauci is the managing editor of Long Island Weekly, Anton Media Group's award-winning special sections and Anton’s local magazines. Her passion for literature, travel and the arts lend to the unique content in her publications. In her time at Anton, she has received first place in the Folio Awards, second place for the NYPA awards and is the recipient of six PCLI awards.

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