Photo courtesy of The Gateway
Tapping their way into the holidays
You won’t be able to sit still.
At least that’s what Melissa Giattino and Ron DeStefano are hoping when they tap their routines to holiday songs with joyful drop-dead precision that will keep the joint jumping.
Giattino and Ron DeStefano’s upbeat show, “Two on Tap: Happy Holidays,” is making its New York debut at The Gateway in Bellport on Dec. 4 and 6 this week. The songs are from Gershwin, Cole Porter and other greats of the era, with fresh arrangements. Jeff Biering will accompany the dancers on piano.
“It’s high energy and takes you back to a time when life was simpler,” Giattino said during an interview in The Gateway lobby. “And it’s heartwarming. Our goal is to get everyone happy and into the holiday spirit.” No live reindeer or flying Santas, but “White Christmas” will be in there along with a few surprises, great costumes and glorious singing in this two-act, concert-style show.
Trust us. These Broadway babies have great pipes to match the dancing.
“Two on Tap” was a collaboration that began with tap choreographer Richard Schwartz and Giattino six years ago. (Giattino and Schwartz would whip up new dance-style musical numbers between Broadway shows.) “I started it because I had a need to do something of my own,” Giattino said. “Richard and I met at summer stock, performed with each other and created a huge dance number. Ron and I have been friends for 21 years and he was a huge supporter. He stepped in when Richard didn’t want to travel.” DeStefano and Giattino began performing together in 2010.
“Ron and I had so much material and wanted to share this as an art form,” she added. DeStefano is an award-winning tenor who has performed at Lincoln Center and did a Broadway National Tour of “Fiddler on the Roof.” His voice, in a nutshell, is glorious. DeStefano’s rendition of “O Holy Night” is beautiful and touches an emotional nerve no matter what your religion.
The routines, DeStefano said, are constantly tweaked. “We’re constantly plugging in,” he said. “We’ve been known to telephone a routine to an arranger from a cabin room during one of our cruise shows. You’re always selling yourself, so we call it the new vaudeville.
“It’s a real, in-time situational show. It’s a little bit autobiographical with our unique brand of comedy. If someone sneezes, we say ‘God bless you.’ No two shows are ever the same, especially with audience participation or reaction. It has an element of standup comedy and anything can happen.”
There are now three different “Two on Tap” shows, Giattino said, adding that their shows have played in 31 different countries. “One is a traditional song-and-dance performance to the Great American Songbook music; we have one for cruises, and the holiday show,” she said. While Giattino, who lives in Manhattan, has been on the road most of the time, she and DeStefano are now producing “Shades of Bublé,” a Michael Bublé tribute, via their new production company EPIC Arts Management LLC; DeStefano is producing director, Giattino is artistic director. “We created it, wrote it and cast it,” she said. “We’ve hired 18 performers and work with numerous music directors, orchestrators and arrangers. That allows us to be creative in a whole different way.”
If the name sounds familiar it’s because Giattino is a daughter of Diane Giattino, who started Stage Door School of Dance in East Patchogue. She was assistant dance captain/swing in the 2001 Broadway revival of “42nd Street,” where she made her Broadway debut and tap-danced her way with cast members down the aisles, opening the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall. Giattino did Broadway National Tours of “A Chorus Line” and “Peter Pan,” lived in London for nine months while in “Showboat” on the West End, and was a Radio City Rockette for two years. She was the head dance caption for Broadway’s “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” in 2005, which her sister Mary starred in.
The itch to tap began at home; Diane started Stage Door when Giattino was 2 and taught her form. And she was a regular at The Gateway’s Acting School. “I watched the golden era of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell and Ann Miller with all those turns on her own,” she said. “She did ‘Too Darned Hot’ in ‘Kiss Me Kate.’ She was extraordinary. (Miller was known for her rapid, staccato taps.). And then also dancers like Savion Glover; he’s a jazz musician and comes at it from a different perspective. He’s like a typewriter.”
DeStefano was raised in West Palm Beach, Fla. and describes his family as brainiacs, very math-and-science-based. He played piano growing up and accompanied his middle school church choir, then was the surprise hit when asked to substitute for a choir member. He performed in musicals throughout college after being offered a scholarship if he would double major music and chemistry. While aiming for a Ph.D. in chemistry, a funny thing happened along the way. As a last hurrah before attending Rutgers for his doctorate, he performed at a regional theatre conference and was chosen by a theatre in Albany, where he met Giattino. She convinced him to follow his performing path. Six months in and he was on the European tour of “Evita.”
“Our collaboration is helped by years of my doing Excel spread sheets and writing grants and she brings show business experience,” he said rather modestly of his talents. “When I’m hooking up sound I remember things from my physics class. Music and math are next to each other on the career wheel. It’s all useful.”
DeStefano said when they created their shows, “we had no idea there was an audience for song and dance.” Well, there was. “We’ve traveled 270 days a year,” he said. “This is the first Thanksgiving that we were home since we started this. We had one of our shows on a ship with people we hired, so we’re laying into producing.”
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