From swinging in Newsies to portraying a graceful klutz in She Loves Me, Michael Fatica is happy to finally arrive in Punxsutawney. Eight times a week he dances up a storm on a moving turntable while wearing a fat suit. If that’s not challenging enough, he has to do it over and over again in the span of one show. We spoke to Michael about his journey to Broadway and why he is thrilled to be a part of Groundhog Day with Andy Karl.
Joy: How old were you when you started dancing, and when did you know you wanted to do it as a profession?
Michael: Well, actually, I started dancing very late. In middle school I was in show choir, which was not my first choice of elective. My sister was in it, so I didn’t want to do it, but then luckily I ended up falling into it and loved it. From show choir I got involved in a drama club at school which led to summer theater camps, and then I started really loving the idea of doing musicals. Then I went to high school for performing arts. I wanted to do plays, but they needed more boys for the musicals. So I joined and started dancing at the school shows, but not really serious dancing until 16.
It’s easier for boys honestly. I played sports when I was younger and it’s the same muscle groups. So your muscles form while doing sports in the same way as if a boy was taking dance lessons. The technique obviously has to come later, but my college was really great for dance so I learned so, so much there.
Newsies was your first Broadway show. How did you get involved with that?
Newsies was a bit of a journey for me. I auditioned for the Paper Mill production like eight times. I was there until the final call back and I didn’t get it and was completely devastated. I was just coming off of a national tour and I thought that was the show for me and I was so beaten down when I didn’t get it. When it was coming to Broadway, I heard that they were recasting a few guys, and at first I was like I am not going to go in, I am too burned. But then I got called in to come back in for it and only auditioned twice for the Broadway show and I got the swing track. So it was just the right time, right place. I didn’t get to do it at Paper Mill, but luckily, I was part of the original Broadway show which was a truly magical experience.
Was it difficult to be a swing?
Oh, my gosh. I think being a swing is the hardest job and also the most important job for a person to do at some point in their lives. It’s easy when you are in a show to take for granted the fact that doing it every day makes so many things second nature that as a swing you are constantly battling. With Newsies, honestly it was the physical muscle memory of those tricks because I had to learn a lot of that stuff. Some of the tumbling tricks I didn’t know how to do before. A lot of the dance tricks I had never done. The acting and the singing is not quite as hard for me, but that show, the dancing was very tough so it took a lot of practice.
What was the hardest track you had to cover?
It was either the Sniper or the Specs track. Only because everything they did was to my bad side. They did a lot of turning to the right, which is not my jam and also a lot of jumping on the left split, which is not what I want to do. I want to do everything to the right, and I want to turn to the left. So that’s the only reason they were hardest for me. The hardest track was probably Romeo – but you know what? There were three of us who were swings, and we all had our own demons with different tracks. My favorite tracks to do were Albert, Race and Henry.
In She Loves Me you got to partake in a hilarious scene with Peter Bartlett. Is it challenging to combine dancing with comedy?
Well, comedy is like my wheelhouse. That’s what I would like to do all the time. So no, it was a pleasure to do both. We had a blast in She Loves Me. It was a fun little character. Scott Ellis (director) and Warren Carlyle (choreographer) sort of let us do whatever we wanted to create those people, because Peter obviously comes in with a very specific human every time. That’s sort of his brilliance. It was so fun to be able to combine a real scene with a dance number. It’s kind of rare that we ever get to do that.
I feel like it was the kind of character that you could have messed up and no one would have known because it was so funny.
That’s sweet, but we did certainly mess up a lot so don’t tell anyone.
She Loves Me was the first Broadway show to ever be live streamed. How exciting was it to be a part of that?
Do you think more shows should do livestreams?
It’s a bit of a point of contention whether people should do that, but I can only speak from my experience with She Loves Me. Because it was a limited run and it wasn’t going to tour, it was sort of like one moment in time. I am glad they were able to livestream it because my dad wasn’t able to come up from Florida to see it and people all over the world were able to experience this show that was only running for three months. So I think in that case, it is a great way to spread live theater. I think it’s in response to those NBC and Fox Live shows that we see like Peter Pan Live! and which are a whole different experience. In this way with the BroadwayHD livestream, you are able to really get a true theatrical experience. I am glad they did it.
Did you watch the livestream afterwards?
I watched it recently. Like many, many moons after. I didn’t really want to watch it when it first came out because it just was too soon. I felt having done the show every day, I think I am going to like this more if I give it some time. It’s cool for us to see. I did also watch the movie version when it came out in theaters. A few of us from the cast went to see it then and it was cool for us to get to see the rest of the performances, because we didn’t get to see what Zach [Levi] and Laura [Benanti] were doing every day on stage. There were so many things I didn’t know happened, so that was really sweet.
Were you a fan of the Groundhog Day movie before you got involved with the show?
No. Sadly to say I had never seen it. I saw clips of it and I sort of knew what it was. I heard while I was working on Matilda that they were going to be doing the show and I was just very curious and I watched it and I thought it was hilarious. So then when I got the opportunity to audition, I watched it again to kind of figure out who I was auditioning for, because I was originally going in for Fred who was played by Gerard Canonico. He is like the little boyfriend in the show and I didn’t know who that was. So I have seen it two times, and I haven’t watched it again.
When you’re performing in the same role every night, it probably feels very repetitive, much like the premise of Groundhog Day. How do you keep yourself engaged and make sure you’re not phoning it in or getting bored?
Well, lucky for my character, I only do one line the same every time and then Andy [Karl] has something new for me. Some of the scenes are not quite like that. Like the Clevelands– they do their thing the same every day. My character luckily is able to really bounce off what Andy is doing, which I have to tell you is not always the same. He really mixes it up for me. It’s kind of fun. I love those little scenes with him. The only thing that we have really had to work on infusing is the first two, three days because those are the same movement, but luckily since my interchange comes before that, that could influence the rest of the day in a way that makes it exciting.
How does it feel to be billed as “Chubby Man”?
I remember them calling me with the offer for the show. I had been auditioning for Fred originally and I came back in and read the deputy scenes, but never Chubby Man scenes because I don’t know that they had anyone reading them. You are not often sent the full script before when you are auditioning so I didn’t even know the character. When my agent called and said, “you are playing the man called the Chubby Man, but they want to talk to you about wearing a fat suit,” I was like great, whatever. I was sort of game for it because I knew this team, so I know they weren’t going to throw me overboard, but yes, I was offended for like ten minutes. And then I got over that.
Is it heavy or hard to dance in a fat suit?
It’s really well designed so that it’s not super heavy. The stomach is like a cage rather than just like stuffing padding in, so it is very moveable and it is a little heavier than not wearing something. It’s probably like ten pounds, but it’s not too bad. It’s just warm because you are wearing padding, plus a sweatshirt and a snowsuit and windbreaker and gloves and a wig. A lot of your heat leaves through your head, so I didn’t realize how much hotter it would be with the wig on. They were very conscious of trying to make our clothes as breathable as they could be. The costume people were very, very kind.
It’s the same creative team from Matilda, right?
It is. Rob Howell designed the costumes.
Do you get to interact with Tim Minchin and the creative team when you are working on these shows?
Oh, sure they were all around almost the whole time. Tim was also working on a movie, so he was here for like a week at a time and then he would go. Tim is very cool. I saw him perform last year for the first time. He is very inspiring and so magnetic to just watch him be a human, so it’s great when he was around because he is very much that guy who makes you want to work harder in a good way.
I feel like in your show you work really hard because of the repetition.
Well, our team has been very specific about the whole show. So we have got a lot of tools to use in order to continue that fight through to make it the same. With each of the days, they want us to make them even more intense each time. Which actually is helpful, because if we were supposed to be recreating the exact same day without any difference, I think it’s easy to let it sit and calm down a little. We are supposed to be Phil’s version of us. So the more stressed he is, the more in his face they want us to be.
On the last day Phil calls, “hey, Chubby,” and you are like, “do I know you? It’s awesome. He is already used to the routine.
Yes. It’s actually hard to erase everything you have seen before though, especially for Rita (played by Barrett Doss) who has to do it constantly and for the audience to forget or forgive Phil for what he has done, because he doesn’t start out as a good guy. But nobody in the town has any recollection of what he has done. So if you just think of the very last day, all that he is doing – he is a great guy and in our opinion they deserve to fall in love. Rita just knows him as this man who has come to this town to do these amazing deeds for these people and you have to forgive him for all of the two hours of crap he has given to people.
What is it like to work with Andy Karl who is such a consummate professional, performing through injuries, technical issues and more?
He is a trooper. I have really never seen anyone fight through what he did that night. It’s so much pressure to be in his position right now because the show is all about him and he has been working on it for so long and waiting for the opening night. This should be the time that he could really enjoy it. Luckily the reviews were so positive because he really deserves that. Seeing him get hurt right before the finish line, it’s like you are running the New York Marathon and you get hurt in the 25th mile. You saw him break down for a second and he got back up and he is like, “no, I am just going to do it, I am not quitting.” Having seen him stand on that stage with a cane and crying through the rest of the show, I get emotional thinking about it because no one deserves to get hurt like that. It’s just so frustrating and he has been such an amazing trooper. I am sure it’s difficult for him but he never complained about anything in his life to me. He is such an inspiring person to work with.
It’s like a Rocky mentality though. So he is just going to fight and not give up hope.
You know, I have spoken to a few people who who did Rocky. They were like yes, Andy would get punched in the face and have a black eye and he would just show up the next day at work and do the same thing. Not many people have the mental strength to do that. And same right now. I don’t know how he can be so invested in the show right now. He is still being completely true to Phil. I am sure he has to think about his knee, he has to think about adjustments, you have to think about things you need to change.
What’s your favorite part in Groundhog Day?
My favorite part is the Tilt‑A‑Whirl carnival ride. I think it’s a really brilliant use of the turntables, but it’s also such a sweet moment that Phil and Rita have and I am just glad that they included Chubby in that moment. I get to see Barrett’s face as we pass and I think that’s a really sweet part of the play that I am glad I get to be in.
What’s the best audience reaction?
There are a few jokes that that Phil has that are very sexual in nature towards Rita and we always get a very different response to a lot of them. I think the best one is when it’s the very first day, they are snowed in at the bar, and Phil is like “hey, come up to my room” and he offers to pay Rita, which is a bit of British humor that they are putting in this American show. It’s a little offensive towards women and I think we all feel that way and I think the audience is allowed to feel that too, but sometimes you get men who love it and sometimes you get women who hate it. People are very vocal about that. I think throughout the show there are a lot of things like that that I always look forward to seeing how the audience reacts to.
Is it hard to dance when the floor is moving in the opposite direction?
We were lucky. The London cast of the show had to create a lot of the turntable stuff, because when we got to the New York rehearsal, we had the full turntable deck in the studio. So we would learn a number and then they would turn the floor on at like 50 percent speed and you learn how to do it and then you get up to speed. We had turntable rehearsals, just walking on them and learning how to maneuver it. Now it’s like second nature, but when we were first doing it, it was very distracting when the floor moves under you.
Do you have a dream role for Broadway?
I have always wanted to play Bobby Strong in Urinetown.
Describe your experience in each of the following shows:
Beauty and the Beast: Beauty and the Beast was a growing experience for me. I was very young and got to tour the country and met a lot of amazing people and literally grew up I think 20 years in a one‑year time.
Newsies: It’s honestly like the magical dream come true show that I didn’t know was that until after the fact.
Matilda: Matilda is a funny show to do because it’s about sort of being trapped in this time, so I think Matilda was a really good test as an actor to not let the show affect your personal life. Because it’s very easy to take that home with you and everything that you do in the show is about being constricted, so it’s easy to like feel that leaving the theater. It was a really a good lesson of doing that and then letting it go. I loved doing Matilda so much, but it is definitely hard to do comparatively to like Newsies, which is about winning every day. You get to win the strike every day.
She Loves Me: Oh, She Loves Me was just pure joy It was a fun and very rewarding experience that lasted just the perfect amount of time.
Groundhog Day: Groundhog Day has been my favorite experience as a whole thus far. I think it is a wonderful cast and the experience has been really positive. It’s special to be part of something that you support this much. We all are enjoying this moment very much.
What’s your favorite thing about New York City?
I would say the amount of things that you could do in a day that are unique just to New York. My sister was just here this weekend and we were exploring the city. We went to get the best bagels in New York, which I am telling you from Florida, they are better here. We went to the High Line which is such an original place to be. Then we went to an art museum that has like the best art in the world and then went to dinner in the West Village, which is the most amazing food. We had such authentic Italian food. Then we went to a speakeasy.
You get to do all these amazing things you can’t do anything anywhere else, it’s just all here at our fingertips. So I think New York is the best place to really experience so many different walks of life. That’s why I love it. I am never moving.