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Dancers are ‘In Your Arms’ for premiere of new concept play at The Old Globe

Stephen Bienskie and Jenn Harris is the world premiere of In Your Arms at The Old Globe.
Stephen Bienskie and Jenn Harris is the world premiere of In Your Arms at The Old Globe.
( / Buck Lewis, NY Stage & Film & Vassar Powerhouse Theater)

Christopher Gattelli received in 2012, Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for his cho­reography in “Newsies” (currently on tour). Now, as director, choreographer and co-conceiver of “In Your Arms,” his idea for a show without words, he continues to surpass expectations and gain rave reviews.

A dancer by trade, Gattelli, was director-choreographer of “Silence! The Musical,” “Jug-Band Christmas,” “Radio Girl,” “De­parture Lounge,” and the Coen Brothers’ upcoming film “Hail, Caesar!” His Broadway credits include “Amazing Grace,” “The King and I,” “South Pacific,” “Sunday in the Park,” and many more.

“The Globe is famous for premiering new works of American Musical Theater,” said its artistic director Barry Edelstein at a preview event. “This show is a special piece as we’re pushing the form by moving The Globe into a dance/theater hybrid, telling stories about love and romance.”

Gattelli said the idea for “In Your Arms,” came to him when he was at the Lincoln Center doing “South Pacific.” Walking down the halls, he noticed there were names of great playwrights on the walls. He spoke to a friend about his plan to ask different writers to pen a story that would unfold only with music and no words, and when she became intrigued by the idea, Gattelli set out to find the writers and read some of their plays.

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“We were surprised so many of them were on board with the idea, and already had brilliant, specific voices that go beyond words,” Gattelli said. “At the same time, I had just met composer Stephen Flaherty, and once he heard about the idea he was immediately on board. He would create these musical fabrics and then we would talk through the plays to figure out what theme or dance style would go with that particular story. Then he would structure the music, kind of like scoring a film, with specific hits and beats.”

Gattelli said he was amazed at the work of the writers and how it fit into his vision. “After seeing their work, I was able to dig into the common themes and styles of each,” Gattelli said. “Ste­phen and I tried very hard to keep in mind their overall aesthetic when creating each piece.”

Among the writers who created stories for “In Your Arms” are Douglas Carter Beane, Nilo Cruz, Christopher Durang, Carrie Fisher, David Henry Hwang, Rajiv Joseph, Terrence McNally, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage and Alfred Uhry.

“Once the writers realized there would be no character names, just dancers without any dialogue, it pleased some of them who recognized this was a different outlet for their work,” Gattelli said. The dance styles employed include classical ballet, swing, tap, tango and rock ’n’ roll.

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The only words heard come in the opening title song, “Dancing in Your Arms,” with lyrics by Tony and Emmy Award-winner Lynn Ahrens, sung by Donna McKechie, Tony Award-winner for Broadway’s “A Chorus Line.”

Because he’s worked on this play for seven years, Gattelli said he’s been moved by different scenes at different times.

“Maybe it’s a story about a friend, or a boy and girlfriend on a date, but when I see what these 20 dancers, true artists, bring to this show it’s above and beyond anything I’ve worked with. In previews, we heard one guy say, ‘I hate dancing,’ but by the end of the play he said, ‘I love dancing,’ and that was wonderful to hear.”