While his work has been praised in major cities such as New York, Washington and Chicago, Connor Gallagher thinks next week’s production of “Elf” at Proctors in Schenectady will be one of the high points of his brief but busy career as a professional choreographer.
“It was great being on stage at the Kennedy Center and looking up at the president’s box, and I’ve worked at many of the other landmark theaters in the country,” said Gallagher, a 2002 Shenendehowa graduate.
“But Proctors is where I grew up watching theater. It’s where I fell in love with the theater, so it really is so exciting for me. Oh gosh, it’s going to be wild.”
“Elf,” the musical, is the stage adaptation of the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell. The book for the play was written by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan, while Matthew Sklar wrote the music and Chad Beguelin was the lyricist.
The story centers on an elf named Buddy, who grows up at the North Pole working for Santa Claus, but then discovers his human roots and heads to New York City looking for his real father. Following its 2010 holiday run in New York, the show went out on tour for the 2012 Christmas season. This is the third year of the national tour, and Gallagher has been with the traveling troupe since its inception.
“It was a totally different production out on tour because we had to reimagine some of the set pieces that had been built into the stage on Broadway,” said Gallagher.
“And we don’t just take it out of the box each season. We alter things, we try to improve on it each year. We have a whole new opening number from last year so we’re always working on ways to make it better.”
Daniel Patrick Smith is playing Buddy in this year’s event, and he and the show are getting good reviews. Earlier this month, Cincinnati Enquirer critic David Lyman said the show was “delightful, silly and entertaining and, thanks to a handful of brassy musical numbers, occasionally rousing. It even has some moments that may find you searching for a tissue. And as for filling Will Ferrell’s shoes, I say ‘Will who?’ ”
This year’s production began rehearsals in early October and after opening in Cincinnati, traveled to Hershey, Pennsylvania, San Francisco and Indianapolis before coming to Schenectady.
“My whole family, nieces and nephews, and my grandmother, who does not travel that often, will be there,” said Gallagher, who will be in Schenectady for the entire run of the show.
“I didn’t travel with the show, and I’ve been working on some other projects, including a musical for Disney Cruise Lines with Alan Menken’s music. Getting a first stab at his music, which nobody else has touched yet, is something. But I’ll be at Proctors the whole week and I’ll be over the moon. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Gallagher’s first stage was a gymnast’s mat, where he excelled in vaulting and floor exercise. However, after watching Ralph Macchio in “How to Succeed in Business Without Trying” at Proctors, his life changed. After quickly looking into dance schools, he settled on the Orlando School of Dance in Schenectady, where Debra Pigliavento had the kind of credentials he was interested in for himself.
“I looked at Debbie’s history on Broadway so I started studying with her in the seventh or eight grade,” he remembered. “She was my catalyst. She was the one that turned me into a Broadway dancer.”
Gallagher started auditioning in New York City for work at the age of 18, but then went to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. After four years there he headed back to New York City and in 2007 spent much of the year performing a variety of roles in the smash hit “Beauty and the Beast,” which was in the final year of a 13-year Broadway run.
“I had to call on my gymnastic career for that show, and I did an awful lot of tumbling,” he said.
“It really took a toll on my body. But it was perfect for me because I had always wanted to be a choreographer since I was a little kid. Usually the trajectory of a choreographer is that you dance until your mid 30s, then you start assisting, and then you become a choreographer. So I was a bit younger, but I got lucky and found some work. I lived my dream because I got to Broadway. Now, since I don’t want to dance my whole life, I’ve been sort of starting my career over again.”
Gallagher’s success didn’t surprise Pigliavento.
“He’s followed his dream and he’s done very well,” she said. “But I also know he wanted to choreograph. I can remember him getting some choreography responsibilities for a show at Shenendehowa and how he really liked it. He always wanted to be on that creative side, too, and it’s very exciting he’s working on a show, a national tour, that’s coming to Proctors.”
As a young aspiring dancer and choreographer, he could always rely on his mother and father to help him chase his dream, Gallagher said.
“When I wanted to go to New York and audition when I was 18, they said, ‘sure, OK,’ ” remembered Gallagher, who gained some valuable experience as an intern at the now-defunct New York State Theater Institute in Troy.
“They said, ‘if he wants to go to Broadway, we might as well see what it’s like.’ My parents certainly aren’t stage parents. Sometimes with a lot of kids, you can tell the parents want it more than the kids do. But they weren’t like that. They just supported me.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]
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