GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Andy Pellick of 'Tarzan'
Andy Pellick, who grew up in a western Pennsylvania village of 260 people, 0 stop signs and 1 gas station with hand-cranked pumps, moved to New York City during the first week of September 2001. What happened there a few days later was enough to send even the slickest of city slickers retreating to some sleepy burg in the countryside, but Pellick the small-town transplant was undaunted.
"I couldn't imagine anywhere else I want to be," he says. "Oddly, I felt safer being here and in the middle of it. I felt like I was aware what was going on a lot better than anybody that I know outside of New York. Everybody was like, 'Can you just go to New Jersey for a week or two?' It was important to be here. I felt really connected to the city."
Five years and four Broadway shows later, Pellick's assimilation is complete. "I feel like a New York guy," says the 27-year-old. "I'm having a love affair with this city."
Pellick had eased into urban living by moving to Las Vegas after high school. "It was the perfect intermediate step, a great way to adjust to a bigger city." He didn't experience culture shock after arriving in New York but rather had felt it more back in his hometown of Grindstone, Pa. (about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh). "I think where I grew up was shocking to me," he admits. "I always felt like: What is this place that I'm living in? This isn't right. I always knew there was something bigger out there and there was a world that I was missing."
As a Broadway dancer, Pellick has been able to explore many worldsfrom Emerald City to the African jungle to 19th-century Transylvania. His longest engagement to date has been Wicked, where his roles included flying monkey. He left the show about a year into its run to do La Cage Aux Folles, in which he memorably cavorted in a cage as a drag queen in a bird costume. In his Broadway debut, Dance of the Vampires, he portrayed one of the undeadas well as a clove of garlic (really). And now, in Tarzan, he's an ape and a moth.
Sense a pattern here? Pellick encapsulates his résumé: "I'm always a creature, and I'm always wearing a unitard. Every show." Every movie too. Pellick has made just one so far, but he didn't get to be a flesh-and-blood human in that either. In The Polar Express, Pellick's digitized likeness appears as a pastry chef in the "Hot Chocolate" number. Some of his dance steps were also used for a waiter in the scene. To perform these parts that would then get CG-animated, "we had to wear black unitards with motion-capture sensors on them," Pellick says. "Again with the unitard!"
Pellick's acrobatic flair has a lot to do with all the flying, swinging, flipping and contorting he's asked to do. And it's what got him into dance in the first place. "I loved just being, like, a kid, a little boy," Pellick recalls of his childhood. "We had a big pool, so I loved diving. And we had trampolines. I was a daredevil, so I would just be in the backyard playing around. I was the kid always dancing around and tumbling in backyards of everybody where I lived." Friends and neighbors knew his younger sister was going to dance class. "They were like, 'Put him in dance.' So I went with her one day and absolutely loved it." The studio he and his sister attended "was very good at acrobatics," Pellick explains, "so flexibility was key, and tumbling. That's kind of where it all came from."
Choreographers have tailored roles to his unique talents. Meryl Tankard came up with Tarzan's moth (pretty enough to be mistaken for a butterfly) at a workshop last summer where "they got an idea of who we were and what we could do," Pellick says. Jerry Mitchell had a cage brought to La Cage rehearsals and decided what exactly to do with it once Pellick was inside. He was hired for the Vegas show EFX when there was no spot open in the company, so a piece was created for him.
Like some others in the Tarzan company, Pellick previously performed in the aerial/aquatic revue De La Guarda, which was created by Pichón Baldinu, a designer for Tarzan. "He really taught me how to be comfortable and how to trust the apparatus, and everything that's going on. Once you establish that you trust what's happening, you can do anything," Pellick says. As a De La Guarda alum, he had no qualms about strapping on a harness for all the ape pendulation (as Tarzan's pal Terk calls it) in Tarzan. "It's so exciting because there's so much freedom," he gushes. "There's an entire other level that you get to experience because you're in the airwhen does that happen [otherwise]?"
There is, of course, more to Pellick's repertoire than dance tricks. He began studying jazz and tap almost as early as acrobatics, and expanded to ballet in his teens. He also discovered pretty quickly that concentrating on gymnastics wasn't for him. When he was about 8, Pellick recounts, "I trained in gymnastics, with all the equipment, for about a year and a half. I hated it so much. There was no artistic value allowed for the men, at the time. Everything was like: You have to do it exactly like this, the book says you must look like that I just wanted to have fun. I wanted to dance through it. They weren't having that at all. When it came to performing, there was no real performing."
Pellick didn't need the sport of gymnastics to sate his competitive urge. He had already started participating in dance competitions, and by high school he was in one almost every weekend...and winning many of them. At such competitions as Showstopper, Starpower and Spotlightwhich are held regionally, leading up to national championshipsdancers are divided by age, genre and number performing (i.e., solo, duet, etc.). Pellick's very first time before the judges, he won the age 7-8 acrobatic solo division, despite a few snafus during his Lone Ranger-themed routine. In landing the first flip, he bruised his heels and his mask was jolted sideways. "My mask turned so I couldn't see, but I had been toldit was beaten into me: 'You're not allowed to touch your costume! If your pants fall off, you leave them off.'" He got through the performance but came off stage in tears; a pep talk by an older student from his studio steeled him for his next two routines in the competition.
Over the years, Pellick won some hefty cash prizes, but dancing competitively was never a mercenary endeavor for him. "I loved being on stage," says Pellick, whose titles included Mr. Dance of America (awarded by the Dance Educators of America) and Mr. Spotlight USA. "I got the opportunity to perform all the time, so that was in and of itself something I loved. Winning was just a bonus on top of it. Being in that atmosphere and being challenged by other people was so exciting. Also, my best friends were doing it as well, so we were getting to go together to all these events."
Several of the dancers Pellick befriended at competitions are now working in musical theater too. They include Mark Myars, Corinne McFadden, Kristen Gorski and Ioana Alfonsoall of whom were in the original company of Wicked with him. Pellick's best friend from the dance studio he attended as a teen, Ron Todorowski, played Eddie in Movin' Out and is in the cast of Twyla Tharp's follow-up, The Times They Are A-Changin'.
Though Pellick's family goes back four generations in his Pennsylvania hometown and all his aunts, uncles and cousins lived within three blocks of him, Pellick was ready to leave when he was done with high school. He headed west to Vegas, where some performer friends were already working. His first job was a revue called Imagine. It performed regularly in Vegas, but he was hired for a month-long South African engagement. When he returned to Vegas, he auditioned for the musical special-effects extravaganza EFX. Tommy Tune, the star, was at the audition and insisted a place in the company be found for him. So a new fairyland number was conceived for Pellick, who also served as Tune's dance understudy.
"He was such a great mentor," Pellick says of onetime gypsy Tune. "He gave me so much career advice, and he also gave me so much advice on just how to be a good person. Things would happen in the business atmosphere and I would be like: What am I supposed to do? And he'd say: Well, what would you do as a person? We would talk about how can you be a better person and then deal with all the things that go along with the business. He was very inspiring. He hung a little poster outside of his dressing room door that said 'Don't let anyone steal your joy.' I thought that was the greatest way to live. He's such a gentle man."
EFX was rejiggered with more of a rock-and-roll bent when pop/soap star Rick Springfield replaced Tune as the show's headliner, and Pellick's numbers were cut. The new choreographer, a pre-Hairspray Jerry Mitchell, told him: "You've outgrown this. Get out of here, go to New York. I'll see you in New York." Pellick didn't take his advice immediately. He stayed in Vegas and joined De La Guarda. About six months later, a spot opened up in its New York productionPellick's ticket cross-country.
When he went to a Hairspray audition in New York, Mitchell greeted him: "Finally! You're here." But they didn't work together until 2004's La Cage revival. Fearless when it comes to swinging above the audience's heads, Pellick had some qualms about the special demands of a Cagelle role. "I was so nervous about being a woman. I didn't want to lose all sense of me and the masculinity that I have," he says. "When we were auditioning, Jerry didn't want any heels, wigs, makeup. He was: 'If you can convince me with none of the extra stuff, then I'm going to believe it when we add [the costume].' And he was right. You really just commit to it and create a character."
Mitchell started developing the La Cage choreography that would earn him a Tony in a workshop with the dancers. Pellick remembers the fourth or so day of the workshop: "We came in and there was this giant metal birdcage. We were laughing, like 'What the hell is that?' And Jerry said, 'Don't ask, just go get inside of it. Start playing.' I was like, 'You're kidding, right?' And he was: 'No. Let's see what we do.' And he and I had so much fun playing in that birdcage."
Pellick also has great memories of working with Wicked choreographer Wayne Cilento. "He has an incredible sense of individuality, he doesn't want everyone to look the same," Pellick says. "He assembled the ensemble in a specific way, so that everyone brought something different to the table and was unique character-wise. He really used what we could do." Wicked is also where Pellick met director Joe Mantello, who is now his boyfriend.
For Pellick, the second time (on Broadway) was the charm: Wicked turned out to be a blockbuster, whereas Dance of the Vampires had been a bust. "That was an eye-opening experience, to say the least," he says of the critically savaged Vampires, which closed in six weeks. "Because I was in it, I always believed completely in what I was doing. It was my first show, so I just thought: If I believe and trust and commit, I'm doing my job properly. I really had no idea until I saw things start to unfold, like after we opened and the reviews, then the dwindling ticket sales. I didn't realize we were on a sinking ship until it got really bad."
Such unabashed enthusiasm makes it hard to believe Pellick once needed a break from dancing. He quit classes around age 12due in part to a disagreement between his mother and the dance schooland stayed away for about three years. "I was burnt out because I was the only boy in my studio, so they pushed me into all the classes. I was at the studio every day, and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. I loved it and I wanted to do it, but it got to be a lot," he says. He stayed in shape dancing by himself at home and taking up baseball, football and golf. When he resumed classes at 15, they were at a different studio closer to Pittsburgh, Marie Lynn's Superstar Dance Center. It was there that he studied with Mark Marino, the teacher who had the greatest impact on him. "It was the first time I'd ever been taught by a man. It was such a positive influence because it wasn't just girls around all the time," Pellick says. "He gave me the opportunity to be the best that I could beand made it possible. He and his mother, who was the ballet mistress, put me on scholarship. He made me aware that I could make a career out of this if I wanted to."
Pellick now moonlights from his performing career as a competition choreographer for two studios, Dance Dynamics of Memphis and All American Dance Factory in the Tampa area. Ultimately he'd like to become a choreographer full-timebut only after "I'm done performing completely," he says. First, "I want to dance as much as I can, as long as I can, and I want to work with every choreographer and director to learn." In the meantime, he's inspiring younger dancers even without teaching them directly. Natalie Fotopoulos, one of the finalists on the Fox reality hit So You Think You Can Dance, lists Andy Pellick as one of her favorite professional dancersalong with Ann Reinking and Gregory Hinesin her profile on the show's website. (Fotopoulos' mother owns Dance Dynamics.)
Pellick has another online presence here on BroadwayWorld.com. When informed that he's been the subject of several mash notes by BWW message boarders, including some in a "Hot Chorus Boys" thread, Pellick says: "What? No! Oh, my God. That makes me blush. I'm the goofy kidlike, I'm just not goofy, but not a sex symbol." Yeah, but look at the admirers he's attracted while attired in fangs, feathers, fur and wings.
Photos of Andy, from top: outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre earlier this summer; monkeying around with Stefan Raulston (left) in Tarzan; backflipping in Dance of the Vampires, with Brendan King behind him; sans moth and ape makeup; as Angelique the Cagelle in La Cage Aux Folles; with his boyfriend, Tony-winning director Joe Mantello. [Tarzan photo by Heinz Kluetmeier]