Kenny Ortega is an American film and television producer, director, and choreographer. He began his career working with the dancer and choreographer Gene Kelly in the film ‘Xanadu.’ He went on to choreograph several music videos and in time, established himself as a reputed professional in this field. He made his directorial debut with the musical comedy drama film ‘Newsies’. The film, however, was a flop commercially and was met with mixed to negative reviews. Even though disappointed, he did not let his initial failure affect his future works. In the coming years he directed many other films, including the super-hit ‘High School Musical 3: Senior Year’, which made more than $250 million on a $11 million budget. The film was the third installment of the ‘High School Musical’ trilogy. The previous two installments were TV films which were also directed by Ortega. He has also directed many episodes of TV shows, such as the medical drama series ‘Chicago Hope’ and the comedy drama series ‘Gilmore Girls’. Ortega has won several awards in his career, including two Emmy Awards out of five nominations.
Childhood & Early Life
Kenny Ortega was born in Palo Alto, California, on 18th April 1950 to Octavio Ortega and Madeline Ortega. His mother used to work as a waitress while his father worked in a factory. He studied at Sequoia High School, situated in Redwood City, California.
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Kenny Ortega began his film career as a choreographer in the 1980 romantic fantasy musical film ‘Xanadu’. He worked alongside choreographer Gene Kelly. Other films he worked as a choreographer in include ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ (1985), ’Pretty in Pink’ (1986) and ‘Dirty Dancing’ (1987). He has won awards for his work in popular music videos such as ‘Material Girl’ by Madonna.
He began his career as a director with the 1992 musical comedy film ‘Newsies’. He served as the choreographer as well. The movie starred actors Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann Margret and Robert Duvall. The film was a commercial failure and received mixed to negative reviews. The film was also nominated for five Razzie Awards, including the ones for ‘Worst Film’ and ‘Worst Director’. However, when it was adapted to the stage, it was a huge success, earning eight nominations for the Tony Awards.
In 1993, he directed as well as served as the choreographer for the American comedy horror fantasy film ‘Hocus Pocus’. It starred actors Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker in lead roles. The film turned out to be an average commercial success. Though it was initially met with negative reviews, it has received a cult status over the years.
His next movie ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar’ was released in 1995. It starred actors such as Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo and Stockard Channing. Leguizamo’s and Swayze’s performances earned them nominations for the Golden Globe Award. In 1998, he served as a choreographer for the animated film ‘Quest for Camelot’. The film was a commercial failure.
Kenny Ortega had begun directing TV shows in 1988, and over the course of his career, he has directed episodes of several TV shows such as ‘Hull High’, ‘Second’, ‘Grounded for Life’ and ‘Gilmore Girls’.
He reached the peak of his career after he directed the 2006 musical TV film ‘High School Musical’. It became the most successful film to have been produced by ‘Disney Channel Original Movie’ and became the most watched TV film of that year. The movie was also novelized into a book series and six video games were made based on the movie. It won several awards including one Billboard Music Award and one Primetime Emmy Award.
In 2007, he directed ‘High School Musical 2’. It premiered on 14th August in Disneyland, California, and it debuted on TV on August 17th. It broke all records, becoming the most-watched made-for-cable movie ever of the time. It was met with positive to mixed reviews.
He directed ‘High School Musical 3’ in 2008; it was the third installment of the High School Musical trilogy. Unlike the previous two films, the third one was released theatrically. The film was a terrific success, earning more than twenty four times its total budget. It became the most commercially successful work of Kenny Ortega’s career. It was met with mixed to positive reviews.
He directed the American documentary film ‘Michael Jackson’s This is It’ in 2009. The film documented Michael Jackson’s rehearsals and preparation for his concert series of the same name. Made on a budget of $60 million, the film earned more than $260 million worldwide.
His next important work on TV was the musical fantasy film ‘Descendants’ (2015). It starred actors Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson, BooBoo Stewart and Cameron Boyce in lead roles. The film was an average success, and earned positive reviews. The film was followed by a sequel, released in 2017, which was also directed by Ortega. He is also the director of the third film in the franchise, which will be released in 2019.
In 2016, he directed the TV film named ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again’. It was met with negative reviews. Besides films and TV productions, he has also directed multiple concert tours for singers such as Gloria Estefan, Cher, and Michael Jackson.
‘The High School Musical’ trilogy is undoubtedly the most important and successful work of Kenny Ortega’s career. The first two movies, which were released on television, became the most watched TV movies of the years. The third one, which was released theatrically, earned more than $250 million on a mere budget of $11 million. The films won several awards and gained a cult-following as well. A spin-off TV series is also in development.
Kenny Ortega is most probably single and there is not much known about his personal life. There are rumors that he might be gay.
In all the feature films and TV films Ortega has directed, he has served as a choreographer as well.