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Interview: Dancin' Man Christopher Gattelli Shares Plans for His Broadway Return- THE KING AND I!

Lincoln Center Theater will soon present Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I, which will feature a cast led by Kelli O'Hara (as Anna Leonowens) and Ken Watanabe (as the King of Siam). Featuring direction by Bartlett Sher, it will begin previews Thursday, March 12 and open on Thursday, April 16 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (150 West 65 Street).

One of Rodgers & Hammerstein's finest works, The King and I boasts a score which features such beloved classics as Getting To Know You, Hello Young Lovers, Shall We Dance, I Have Dreamed, and Something Wonderful. Set in 1860's Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unconventional and tempestuous relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher, whom the imperious King brings to Siam to tutor his many wives and children. Lincoln Center Theater's production of The King and I will feature choreography by Christopher Gattelli based on the original choreography by Jerome Robbins.

Gattelli recently took a break from rehearsals to chat with BroadwayWorld about bringing Robbins' choreography back to the stage, how it translates into a 2015 revival, and so much more. Check out the full interview below!


How have rehearsals been going so far?

Oh they're going! It's so exciting!

Have you had a déjà vu moment yet?

Absolutely. It's kinda like coming home. To be back with Bart [Sher] and Ted [Sperling] and Kelli [O'Hara]...and the whole design team! You walk down the hall and it's so great. It feels like we were just here. It's just so great to be back with this specific group again.

I know that you are basing this choreography off of the original choreography by Jerome Robbins. What does that mean for you from a creative standpoint?

I was flattered to even be asked. To be able to take what he created and make it our own for this production really meant a lot to me. It's such an honor. Basically, when tackling the ballet, we were like, "Well, what are we gonna do?" I'm really happy that they wanted to retain his concept and his style, because it's so thrilling. What's been beautiful about it is that because the show has such a specific concept, the ballet also has to fit into that concept, just by the nature of the dance on stage. It's just been really beautiful to delve into such a classic piece and retain the integrity and what's so beautiful about it, but also to be able to put our own stamp on it. Definitely a few key things are very specific to this production. It's been a joy to work on.

Have there been any struggles yet in the rehearsal room?

Not so far! But only because we had a dance workshop in the fall where we played with some new ideas. It was a great opportunity to really get our feet wet and figure out how far we could push and pull it. So now we've already been through that part and we can really refine it and bring all of the strengths out- in regards to the original and the strengths that will hopefully feel integral to this production.

How does your process differ when you're working on revivals vs. new pieces?

It's interesting that you ask that. I've found now, between doing revivals and plays and new pieces, that it really is different every time. It's, "How can I best serve this piece?" So for example, comparing this to South Pacific, there was definitely a lot of movement and motivated movement, but it wasn't as iconic a piece. The show of course is a Pulitzer Prize-winner and is iconic in itself, but my component in it wasn't as iconic. With a piece like this, the ballet is ICONIC. "Shall We Dance" is iconic. There are specific dance moments in this that are iconic. It's about approaching it in a way so that an audience feels like they are satisfied, and also honoring Bart's vision for this specific production. Being able to meld all of that together into something that serves the show and retains the integrity of the original- that's what I'm trying to do.

That has been very interesting and also very humbling. Parts of it have been like, "Oh yeah, let's try to crack that open and play with that," and then you realize, "Oh, wow. That's actually really brilliant. Don't touch it." Or it's like, "Well in this version, since we are focusing on this aspect of the culture, we CAN play with that, and it will actually serve ours better." It's been really cool to see all of the different colors.

You mentioned Bart's vision for this production. Can you share any more on that?

It's hard to say, other than the temperature of the palace. It's a lot different in this version. Bart's work is always so beautifully dense and rich and authentic. It's a take off of that style of musical theatre that makes it a little more real and grounded. Even the slightest things, like the physicality of them when they walk into the palace or bow to him... the temperature is turned up because of that atmosphere. It's very cool.

I've already been fantasizing about Kelli and Ken doing "Shall We Dance." Have you guys staged that yet?

Not yet! We're in our full second week now, so we are working on the first act, but we'll definitely hit that next week. I can't wait though. We've already done a test run because they shot a commercial, so they've done the polka and whatnot. I selfishly just can't wait to get my hands on it though! I think it will look glorious in this theatre.

You've got a lot on your plate coming up, between Top Hat and In Your Arms. How do you juggle it all?

You know, it's all been very well placed. In Your Arms we've been working on for seven years, so knowing that I have July and August free, I could just take some time there to get in the studio to start working. With Top Hat, we're gonna be doing a full workshop, but we've already done two dance labs and some table reads. You just chip away slowly. I always feel that opportunities will open up when they are ready.

Is there a dream project that you'd like to take on in the future?

Well, the hopefully not-cheesy but cheesy answer is that I've already done them! I feel really fortunate to have been able to be a part of South Pacific and this and Newsies... at this point I don't know what else I can even ask for. I think that the technical answer though would have to be In Your Arms. It's something that I co-conceived and it's been my idea to do this with the playwrights and tell story through dance without words. That's a really big deal for me personally, because it's truly a labor of love. To have that happening and have its premiere is very satisfying. I feel so fortunate though that my places have been so varied and that I've gotten to dip my toes in lots of different waters. I never take anything for granted.

What are you most excited about in getting this piece on stage and out there to a 2015 audience?

To be honest, I think the two main things for me is seeing Bart's take on the material in that space, because he's always so brave and bold. I can't wait to see what he has envisioned come to life. And secondly, the performers. We're only in rehearsal and I'm already in awe of every single one of them, from Ken and Kelli, down the line into the ensemble. The dancers, the singers, the kids! I'm already proud of them and they haven't even hit the stage yet! This cast is really fantastic. I think the audience will really enjoy what they are doing up there.


Gattelli's LCT credits include: South Pacific (Tony and Outer Critics Circle nominations). Broadway: Newsies, Sunday in the Park with George, 13, The Ritz, Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, High Fidelity. West End/London: Silence! The Musical; Sunday in the Park With George; tick, tick...BOOM! Off- Broadway: Altar Boyz (Lortel, Callaway Awards, Drama Desk nom.); Bat Boy: The Musical (Lortel Award); tick, tick... BOOM! ; 10 Million Miles; Adrift in Macao; I Love You Because. Regional: Jim Henson's Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas and Radio Girl (director/choreographer - Goodspeed), The Baker's Wife(Paper Mill). Some favorites: Chess concert with Josh Groban, Hair concert with Jennifer Hudson, "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" (resident choreographer for three seasons). Upcoming: Le Comte Ory (Metropolitan Opera) and the first Broadway revival of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (director/ choreographer).

THE KING AND I will be performed Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8pm, with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Beginning April 21, all Tuesday evening performances will begin at 7pm. Tickets, priced from $87 to $162, are now available at the Lincoln Center Theater box office (150 West 65 Street), at telecharge.com, or by visiting KingandIBroadway.com. A limited number of tickets priced at $32 are available at every performance through LincTix, LCT's program for 21 to 35 year olds. For information and to enroll, visit LincTix.org.


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