As a young teenager, Richard Gatta saw the national touring production of "Rent" at Proctors and was mesmerized by the power of live theater.
"I think I saw it seven or eight times in the two weeks it was here, and I just fell in love with theater," said Gatta, a 2005 Niskayuna High grad who has worked as a performer, dance captain, choreographer and assistant director with some of Broadway's best for much of the last decade. "I loved going to Proctors to see shows, and it was that show that really kick-started me on my career."
Gatta is currently working with a new Susan Stroman musical called "Marie, Dancing Still," which recently concluded a tryout in Seattle and hopes to move to New York City soon. Stroman is the director and choreographer and a five-time Tony Award winner, while the song-writing team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty ("Ragtime," "Once on this Island" and "Anastasia") produced the music.
"That's a great creative group to be working with," said Gatta. "The show is about a famous sculptor in Paris and the women who inspired him. We started working on it back in New York in February and we're still tweaking it a bit. I'm a swing for the production, which means I cover all the men's roles in the show. If someone gets sick and can't go, I step in."
Gatta is hopeful that "Marie, Still Dancing" will get him back on Broadway, where in 2016 he made his Great White Way debut in Steve Martin's "Bright Star." Along with working as a musical theater performer, he is also become very involved in directing and choreography. One of his most impressive credentials is serving as associate director of "Upfront" in 2018."
"It's a big production by NBC Universal at Radio City Music Hall that's meant to market the new shows coming up," said Gatta. "I've been doing a lot more directing lately, and I still enjoy doing choreography. I've been keeping pretty busy."
While he may have been inspired by what he saw at Proctors, Gatta learned a lot about what he needed to know at Niskayuna High School.
"My mother is now a retired music teacher and her influence and the training I got from her was very important," said Gatta. "There was always music around the house. Then, we had a music department at the high school that was really well respected. I was in the choir and we were doing material and orchestration that was far more advanced than where we should have been. Our teachers believed in us, and pushed us to do great things."
Gatta also said he can't overstate how important his time spent with the Northeast Ballet in Schenectady was.
"I was there quite a bit learning from Darlene Myers," said Gatta, who is still listed as an assistant artistic director with the Northeast Ballet here in Schenectady and returns home to the area to work with the company two or three times a year. "Training there gave me the dance foundation I needed to work in New York."
Myers, who still runs her troupe at 418 Liberty St. in downtown Schenectady, said Gatta's work ethic helped him earn some success quickly.
"Richard was a very serious young man, and when he wasn't rehearsing himself he was sitting there with his headphones on going over his part," said Myers. "He studied technique not only for ballet but jazz and tap as well. He was also very much into performing. A lot of our students just want to be in class, but it was obvious Richard wanted to perform."
Gatta also always seemed interested, said Myers, in all aspects of the theater business.
"He wasn't just a dancer," she said. "He was always interested in stage craft and other parts of the theater, not just his own role."
It was 15 years ago now that Eric Hughes, currently chair of the Niskayuna High Music Department, directed Gatta in a school of production of "Les Miserables." Like Myers, he quickly noticed Gatta's inclination toward hard work.
"He was one of my trumpet players in band, and I directed him in a musical," said Hughes, who went to Broadway to see Gatta in "Bright Star." "He was very talented and very creative, but the thing that really impressed me about Richard was how hard he worked. The writing was on the wall. Whatever he chose to do, you knew he was going to be successful."
Gatta performed in the Northeast Ballet's "Nutcracker" as well as some of the company's other shows, and in 2003 was part of the cast in the Schenectady Light Opera Company production of Zombie Prom." He's been in three productions at the Cohoes Music Hall, including "Ragtime" in 2006 when in the role of Younger Brother, Gazette reviewer Paul Lamar called his performance "terrific."
Gatta headed off to the University of Buffalo after graduating from high school, but he didn't stay long.
"About three months into my studies this guy from the 'Les Mis' tour talked to us about his career, and he told us you don't have to go to school," remembered Gatta, who ended up getting a degree in business and arts management from Empire State College. "He said how his degree was in math and that didn't help him. He said, 'just go to New York and audition.' So I did."
Gatta ended up landing a role with the international tour of "Grease," which included a long gig throughout Asia, and hasn't had many idle moments since. His national tours include "Cinderella," "Billy Elliot," "Fiddler on the Roof," and "The Pajama Game," as well as a run on the road with "Bright Star" after the completion of its Broadway show. Written by Martin and Edie Brickell, the show was nominated for five Tonys, losing in the Best Musical category to "Hamilton."
"'Bright Star' will always be near and dear to me," said Gatta. "I spent a lot of time helping them create a new musical for Broadway, working closely with the director and the choreographer, and it was a great experience."
Gatta remains an avid performer, but he says the idea of directing and choreographing, especially new material, is what he sees himself doing more of in the future.
"I'm kind of mixing things up right now, and five years down the road I still want to have the opportunity to do different things," he said. "But I love the idea of creating new things and being involved in new work. So, I'll say yes to a lot, and I'll always be looking for that balance. I'm always going to want to mix things up."