In one of the great new theatrical meetings of the mind, Tony-winning director/choreographer Christopher Gattelli (Newsies) has teamed up with Tony-winning songwriter Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime) to create In Your Arms, a new dance theater piece premiering this week as part of New York Stage and Film's Powerhouse Theater season at Vassar. The show involves 10 renowned playwrights crafting short, wordless pieces that Gattelli translates into dance and Flaherty underscores. The gentlemen of the theater recently spoke with TheaterMania to share their thoughts on the exciting new project.
Chris, give me the gist of what In Your Arms is.
Christopher Gattelli: Basically, we have ten phenomenal playwrights who have contributed short plays, and we tell them solely through dance, with no spoken word. They became vignettes that Steve scored. Originally, [producer] Jennifer Manocherian brought me in for a meeting, wanting to do a dance show. I was working on South Pacific, and while we were rehearsing, I saw Alfred Uhry's name on the wall, and Terrence McNally's name on the wall. To see one of their works told through dance or movement hasn't been done. So we started talking to the playwrights and they got intrigued by it.
Stephen, why did you come aboard?
Stephen Flaherty: Oddly, I've loved dance all my life, and my shows have very little dance in them. I met Christopher and we hit it off. I was so intrigued by this idea, because the theme of the play is romantic destiny. Ten different playwrights wrote about the theme of romantic destiny in any time period. One actually wrote about an alien from outer space. Some were tragic, some were farces, some were brooding...David Henry Hwang wrote one that starts in a techno club in modern day Shanghai and goes back to the Ming Dynasty, so that one really threw me for a loop. I had no frame of reference for that, which made it really exciting. I got to do a lot of research and study these worlds to try to make an evening of music that reflects the same theme. It's a cool way to do theme and variation.
Was there much convincing needed to get all of the playwrights to sign on? Gattelli: They all came in in different ways. Some we sat down with and they came up with the idea on the spot. Others took a while to hammer it out. A lot of them said this was like a gift for them, to be able to put stories they wanted to tell, but weren't sure how to tell it.
Let's talk about the cast...
Gattelli: I don't even know where to begin.
Flaherty: The cast was like a wish list.
How did you convince Robert Morse, who hasn't done New York theater in a long time, to sign on?
Gattelli: He's in Terrence McNally's piece. We needed an older man. It takes place on a beach. Carole Shelley was already involved and we were thinking who we could pair well with Carole, who has this open quality. He said yes after a half-hour phone conversation and is the sweetest guy. We have Robert and Carole, and Ryan Steele [from Newsies], and [ballet dancer] George de la Peña. People from all over the world.
Flaherty: We do have one singer, Debbie Gravitte, and she's someone I've wanted to work with forever. We did the recording of Lucky Stiff together, but that was one quick afternoon in the studio.
Gattelli: We should add that Lynn Ahrens [Flaherty's longtime writing partner] worked with Steve to write a title song that Debbie will sing. We have that to launch us into the show.