Thursday, August 6, 2009


By Brendan Lemon

That Christopher Gattelli's credit in the playbill says "Musical Staging" instead of "Choreography" has something to do with South Pacific's history: in the 1949 Broadway production, director Joshua Logan, with help from the cast, did the movement himself, without the assistance of a professional choreographer. But Gattelli's credit also has to do with the philosophy behind South Pacific in its 2008 Broadway revival and for that production’s 2009-2010 national tour.

"Bart Sher” – the revival’s director – “said from the beginning that he wanted to treat the show as a play," Gattelli told me during a rehearsal break last year. "And in order to achieve that philosophy the dancing has to be based in reality: everything has to be look as natural -- as 'un-choreographed' -- as possible."

Even with this outlook, however, Gattelli and Sher tend to bump up the level of the movement when the onstage talent allows. "We don’t cast the show specifically for dance background," Gattelli says, “but we use the talents that exist among the actors."

When it comes to two of the best-known big numbers in the first act, "Bloody Mary" and "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame," Gattelli aims for authenticity. "Back in the 1940s, people didn't have as many distractions as we do now -- no television or videogames. Consequently, more of them learned how to dance. Which means that the idea of the men in these numbers – the Seabees -- dancing pretty well makes historical sense. At the same time, these men are in the construction trades. They have to move like guys, not like slick, polished Fred Astaires."

Gattelli, whose upcoming projects include choreographing an Oct. 26 benefit concert for The Actors Fund (the event’s chairs are Jo Sullivan Loesser and Sir Paul McCartney) observes that the Seabees' first-act numbers are part of the reason that South Pacific appeals to male audiences as much as to female audiences. He adds: "That group also includes Guys and Dolls and West Side Story. And not many more."

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