Christopher Gattelli: His Biggest Struggle When Choreographing ‘Schmigadoon!’

The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially canceled live shows all over the globe. However, two dozen dancers got the chance to appear on an Apple TV+ series titled Schmigadoon! starring Keegan Michael Key. The show spoofs the 40s and 50s musicals from the Great White Way and Hollywood. A couple is caught in the magical town of Schmigadoon and learns that the only way to escape is to find true love. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli has reflected on Schmigadoon!, along with the challenges that came with choreographing for the show. Keep reading to learn more.

Christopher Gattelli faced challenges choreographing ‘Schmigadoon!’ amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Gattelli had his work cut out for him with this particular project. Filming would present not only the same challenges that plague any musical during the best of times, but it would also have a whole new set of challenges thanks to the global pandemic. A typical day for pre-production started with everyone taking COVID-19 tests prior to arriving at the studio, according to Dance Spirit. There was also a health representative in the room to make sure that everything they were doing was safe. Everyone would have to wear masks and occasionally face shields.

Filming would take place in Canada. So when Gattelli arrived in Canada, had to be quarantined for 14 days. He did a lot of Zoom meetings with the cast from his hotel room and then went right into rehearsals and filming after his quarantine was over. 

The choreography itself had some challenges

Two of the show’s stars, Cicely Tyson and Keegan Michael Key, were not trained dancers. Gattelli had to teach them their finale over video. Gattelli employed the help of his two married dancers, Tara Wilkinson and Matt Overfield, to dance the number together so that Gattelli could use the footage to instruct Cicely and Keegan.
The dancers would break down the steps so that the other two performers could learn their steps individually at home alone. Their hard work was apparent as they performed to number for the first time on set. Gattelli was overjoyed that the pair had worked so hard on the choreography and took the time to really understand the performance.

What else is Christopher Gattelli known for?

Christopher Gattelli attends the 72nd Annual Tony Awards
Christopher Gattelli attends the 72nd Annual Tony Awards. | Steven Ferdman/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

‘Schmigadoon!’ Star Kristin Chenoweth Says 18 Page Song Was Way Harder Than ‘Wicked’

Christopher Gattelli appeared on Star Search at age 11 and was the grand champion. He has also played the role of Pouncival in the Broadway musical Cats. His choreography includes Broadway musicals such as Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, The Ritz, and the 2015 revival of The King and I.

Gattelli was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Choreography for South Pacific and won the award in 2012 for his work in Newsies. His work in Newsies also won him the Outer Critics Circle Award. He won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Choreographer for Altar Boyz and Bat Boy: The Musical. 

Additionally, Gattelli directed Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas at The Goodspeed Opera House, Conn., in 2008, and worked with Julie Andrews on The Great American Mousical in 2012. He was also the director of the musical spoof SILENCE! The Musical, which ran in 2005 at NYCFringe.

Gattelli has been a fixture in Hollywood and the choreography world for a number of years, causing him to amass an impressive body of work over the years. The fact that he could pull off a production under such restrictive conditions amid a global pandemic really speaks to his abilities and his talent for choreography. Adding to that the fact that he was also working with performers who specialized in acting and not dancing makes it even more impressive.  

Schmigadoon! can be seen on Apple TV+ with new episodes airing every Friday.