He sings and he dances! But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t work. Timothée Chalamet had a three-month dance boot camp to prepare for “Wonka” — but luckily veteran choreographer Christopher Gattelli was there to guide him.

“The first lesson I had with him was actually in May of 2021. He was shooting ‘Bones and All’ at the time, and he came in with like this shocking red magenta hair and like super, super skinny Timmy and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not what I was expecting.’” But Gattelli pointed out that with Chalamet’s famous background at LaGuardia High School, it wasn’t like starting from scratch. “And he has really great rhythm, so it wasn’t hard for him to pick it up.”

“Boot camp” sounds like Gattelli turned into the kind of strict dance instructor who terrifies his students, when in reality he’s warm and quick to laugh, and the whole dance process took place concurrently with one of the busiest phases of Chalamet’s career, leaving it almost entirely up to the young star’s discipline. “When he came back from ‘Bones and All,’ he also was doing like the ‘Dune’ press junket,” Gattelli said. “And you could tell when he was away, he practiced what we gave him. Timmy was definitely like, ‘Push me. I don’t want to just look like I’m doing basic stuff here. If you want to do it, make me do it.’ And he put in all the work.”

Aiding in everyone’s training was the studio’s creation of, functionally, a three-story dance factory outfitted with rehearsal rooms, a gym, and everything anyone would need to stay in peak physical condition for long days of executing dance steps over and over for the cameras. Essentially, Gattelli and his team had a Wonka-esque plant for choreography at their disposal. “We didn’t do it because there were clearly more important things to do, but we were literally gonna buy Oompa Loompa T-shirts for all of us,” he said, laughing.

Gattelli has made a name for himself over the last decade with jaw-dropping musical numbers in film and TV, including both seasons of “Schmigadoon!” and Channing Tatum’s homoerotic “No Dames” number in “Hail, Caesar!.” Though the Tony winner’s recent string of Broadway shows is heavy on earnest revivals of Golden Age classics, his riffs on them in other mediums have been delightfully tongue-in-cheek.

With “Wonka” — a prequel to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” about how Willy Wonka (Chalamet) became a chocolatier — Gattelli again finds fresh ways of looking at iconic visuals. It helped that he is a huge fan of the original 1971 film starring Gene Wilder.

“Like if Paul knew how much, he might have been like, ‘I’m not sure it’s a good fit,’” Gattelli said with a laugh. “So there was a part of me that was very protective of it. I was like, ‘OK, if I went to see this, I want to see glimpses of [the original]. There are a couple of moments for Timmy where he does the Gene Wilder backing up on the staircase, then going down. Just little flecks of it, just enough that people catch it.”

Likewise, Gattelli was careful to reference the original Oompa Loompa choreography for director Paul King’s prequel — and new Oompa Loompa Hugh Grant.

WONKA, from left: Timothee Chalamet, Hugh Grant, 2023. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Wonka”©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

“When you look at the original ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ there isn’t a lot of vocabulary in there [for the Oompa Loompas],” Gattelli said. “A lot of it’s them pacing, or someone’s in a handstand. So it’s kind of like gleaning those little steps, doing things like putting his head between his legs. But there was only so much that they did. And plus it was fun to [have Grant’s Oompa Loompa] trapped in a bottle, so we played into that. Which was really funny.”

Fans of “Schmigadoon!” were already familiar with Gattelli’s knack for bringing out the crucial elements of a particular dance style, and nowhere was it more delightfully apparent than in Season 2. For the “Schmicago” season, Gattelli concocted homages to everything from Bob Fosse’s “Rich Man’s Frug” in “Sweet Charity” to Michael Bennett’s “Turkey Lurkey Time” from “Promises, Promises.” His work culminated in a delirious razzle-dazzle solo for Jane Krakowski’s attorney as she delivers her closing argument in a song that references everything from “A Chorus Line” favorite “Dance 10 Looks 3” to the tongue-twisting “Company” showstopper “Getting Married Today.”

“[Co-creator] Cinco [Paul] sent the scripts, not the music,” Gattelli said of his first exposure to what became an Emmy-nominated number. “And it said, ‘Jane enters on a trapeze.’ And I was like, ‘This is a gift.’”

When speaking to Krawkowski, Gattelli was delighted at how game she was. “She’s like, ‘So am I flying on the trapeze or am I just riding it in?’ And I said, ‘It just looks like you’re riding it in and then you dismount.’ She goes, ‘Chris, I can’t just ride in on a trapeze and not use it.’ Not only did she want to, but she already looked ahead and found a trapeze school that she went to train with while we were shooting.”

So intense was her dedication (and skill) that the construction of the courtroom set was halted to rebuild it for more extravagant aerial stunts. “She was like, ‘I’m going to blow this out. I don’t know how many more I have left and I want to blow this out,’” Gattelli said. “And she did. She said, ‘I’ll do anything you want me to do.’ You can see it in her eyes, like when she was doing those Fosse walks towards the judge. She was like, ‘I’m gonna eat this alive.’”

Choreography also affected the filming of “Wonka” in one breathtaking instance. The balloon dance was initially just Wonka and Noodle (Calah Lane) running and flying away, then landing in the town square. But Gattelli approached King with an idea to build it into something bigger.

“Instead of just them flying, I said, ‘Why don’t we have them dance on the Galleria and really establish this connection? In my brain, she’s singing for a moment, and she’s not trusting of people, and people have let her down. And here’s this guy that might be nice. So I was hoping that by the time they landed in the town square, they established this bond and now they’re friends.”

The sweet moment between Wonka and the young girl accomplishes what the best dances do: The sequence moves the story forward by deepening the emotional connection between characters. “Paul was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even realize that that one line can be this beautiful dance break that could do and help so much storytelling.’”

But for his next trick, Gattelli is aiming for something completely different: A new stage musical adaptation of “Death Becomes Her.” Scheduled to begin previews in Chicago in April 30, 2024, the musical brings back to (undead) life the beloved camp classic with a book by Marco Pennette and a score by Julia Mattison and Noel Cary. (A reading of the musical in summer 2023 starred Tony nominees Megan Hilty and Jennifer Simard in the roles made iconic by Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep.) How do you bring to musical life a movie that’s already so over-the-top it inspires drag queens?

“I’m going big and wrong,” Gattelli said with a laugh. “I will squeeze out anything for a laugh. We’ll see what sticks to the wall, but we’re building, I think, a really fun playground. And the score is amazing. What everyone loves about the movie is there, but with some really fun spins of our own to make it our own kind of beast.”

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