Ari Graynor and Johnny Galecki(© Michael Portantiere)
Ari Graynor and Johnny Galecki
(© Michael Portantiere)
A Hollywood star of the Tom Cruise type hires a male prostitute for a night, falls in love with him, and considers publicly coming out of the closet -- much to the dismay of his agent. This, in a nutshell, is the plot of Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, which had a very successful run at Second Stage earlier this year and is now in previews at Broadway's Cort Theater in advance of a November 13 opening. Julie White is recreating her Off-Broadway role of Diane, the high-powered, high-strung agent, for which she received rave reviews; Johnny Galecki is back as Alex, the rent boy who's sweet on Diane's client, Mitchell (now being played by Tom Everett Scott); and Ari Graynor is a newcomer to the cast as Alex's girlfriend, Ellen.

"At its core, the play is about what we all sacrifice to be successful, whatever our careers or goals," says Galecki, whose credits include the long-running hit TV sitcom Roseanne and such films as I Know What You Did Last Sumer, The Opposite of Sex, and Vanilla Sky. "I think Doug has said that, in his original draft of this play, the Mitchell character was a politician. A lot of actors and actresses who are at the level of Mitchell are mascots for hundred-million-dollar enterprises, so their personal lives are protected by the investors. And sexual preference is not always the issue. If two straight actors get involved in a romantic relationship, their handlers might be concerned if the timing is right. Will people be sick of seeing pictures of the couple together when one or both of them have a film coming out?"

The way Graynor sees it, the play definitely has its finger on the pulse of today's society. "With all of the tabloids and the TV shows about the stars lives, celebrity culture is at an all-time high," she comments. "There's an interesting dynamic of people wanting to know all the details but also wanting to be part of this fantasy world." Adds Galecki: "So many people -- and I myself am guilty of this -- are interested in the lives of actors and other people we have no personal investment in. It's just curiosity, I suppose. But it's something I'm not proud of." Has he ever felt that his handlers have tried to exert too much control over his life? "I'm nowhere near the status of the Mitchell character, so I don't have lots of handlers," he says with a laugh. "I have gotten questions like, 'What are you wearing tomorrow night? Have you cut your hair lately? Have you washed your hair lately?' But people are just doing their jobs."

Graynor, who has several major film, TV, and theater credits (including Brooklyn Boy, for which she won the Clarence Derwent Award) and who appeared in the Off-Broadway show Dog Sees God with such other "Young Hollywood" talents as Ian Somerhalder, Eliza Dushku, and Logan Marshall-Green, says: "Most of the people I've worked with have made the choice to actively keep their personal lives personal and have taken a stand on how much press they were going to do and how much they were going to talk about their relationships. It's been a great learning experience for me."

The Little Dog Laughed is written in a broadly comic style, and some of its plot turns may strike audience members as not entirey believable; but neither Graynor nor Galecki has an issue with this aspect of the script. "What Ellen does at the end of the play isn't something I agree with or would do myself," says Graynor, "but I understood it right away." Notes her co-star, "It's easier when you're working with good writing and with a director [Scott Ellis] who understands the necessity of finding the truth in the characters."

Graynor is glad that she didn't see the Off-Broadway production of the play, in which Zoe Lister-Jones played Ellen. "I think it would have been difficult to come into it with fresh eyes and fresh ears if I had seen it," she explains. As for Galecki, he says that he's loving the experience of playing Alex again: "I'm usually the guy who, after I wrap a movie or close a play, will punch the steering wheel and say, 'That's what I should have done there!' To come back and be able to apply those ideas that have been haunting me since February is great."

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Christopher Gattelli(© Michael Portantiere)
Christopher Gattelli
(© Michael Portantiere)
The list of theater notables who began as choreographers and then added directing to their résumés includes such names as Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille, Bob Fosse, Rob Marshall, Kathleen Marshall, and Jerry Mitchell. Following in those footsteps is Christopher Gattelli, director-choreographer of the new Off-Broadway musical How to Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes, which begins previews at New World Stages on November 4.

Described as "a rollicking musical about hot relations at the United Nations," the show, which has a book and lyrics by Jonathan Karp and music by Seth Weinstein, was previously presented as part of the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival. Gattelli wasn't involved with that production, but he saw it. "I loved its sensibility," he says. "The three leads -- Michael McEachran, Anika Larsen, and Nicole Ruth Snelson -- were excellent, and they're all doing the show again. Michael is a comic genius, so inventive and creative."

Although How to Save the World... is a musical comedy, Gattelli feels that there's quite a bit of depth to it: "I told the writers, 'I think maybe you have something here that even you don't realize.' The show deals with what happens when people have to face their fears, and how they can overcome them. It has a really nice turn at the end that everyone can relate to. I think it's great that it's so funny but it also touches people."

Among Gattelli's credits as choreographer are the Broadway-bound musical High Fidelity; the recent, highly acclaimed London production of Sunday in the Park With George, which may be headed to New York; and Altar Boyz, the Off-Broadway hit that's now in the midst of a 30-week national tour. "We were a little nervous that maybe Altar Boyz was not going to play so well in bigger theaters," he remarks, "but we bumped up what needed to be bumped up, and I think it works very well. People are really responding, which is fantastic."

His one major, previous experience as director (as well as choreographer) was Silence! The Musical, a hot ticket at last year's Fringe Festival. "I think it's almost inevitable for a choreographer to move into the position of director," says Gattelli. "It just feels like the next step. I've been so fortunate in the directors I've worked with; I've learned so much from their different techniques and approaches."