Kenneth Miller Ortega
April 18, 1950
Palo Alto, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Filmmaker, choreographer, touring manager|
|Billy Squier's Rock Me Tonite video|
High School Musical
Michael Jackson's This Is It
Julie and the Phantoms
|Awards||Hollywood Walk of Fame (2019)|
Disney Legends (2019)
Kenneth John Ortega (born April 18, 1950) is an American filmmaker, touring manager, and choreographer. He is known for directing the films Newsies, Hocus Pocus, High School Musical, Michael Jackson's This Is It, Descendants, and Julie and the Phantoms. He also choreographed the films St. Elmo's Fire, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Dirty Dancing; and directed multiple concert tours for Cher, Gloria Estefan, Hannah Montana, and Michael Jackson. For his work, Ortega was honored with both a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Disney Legend Award in 2019.
Ortega was born in Palo Alto, California, the son of Madeline, a waitress, and Octavio "Tibby" Ortega, a factory worker. He also has a sister, Marcela Ortega. Both of his parents were also born in Palo Alto, though his paternal grandparents were Spanish immigrants. He attended Sequoia High School in Redwood City, California, where he was a cheerleader and in the drama group.
Ortega began his career as an actor, appearing in a touring productions of Oliver! and Hair before venturing into choreography and directing. Ortega was offered the leading role in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, but turned the offer down to become a choreographer for the San Francisco-based band The Tubes after being spotted on the dance floor in a club by members of the band. Ortega toured with the band for ten years, before being contracted by Cher to choreograph a TV special and tour and by KISS on their Dynasty Tour.
In 1980, Ortega was hired as one of the choreographers on the film Xanadu, working with Gene Kelly who mentored him into choreographing for film. During this time period, Ortega also served as choreographer for several of John Hughes's films, including Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, as well as the 1987 film Dirty Dancing. Ortega would also serve as choreographer for several music videos, including "Material Girl" by Madonna, "She's a Beauty" by The Tubes, "Rock Me Tonite" by Billy Squier, and "Mr. Roboto" by Styx.
Ortega made his directorial debut in 1992 with the Disney musical Newsies, which was followed up by Hocus Pocus in 1993. Ortega also served as choreographer for To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar in 1995.
Alongside Michael Jackson, he created and designed Jackson's Dangerous World Tour (1992–1993), HIStory World Tour (1996–1997) and Michael Jackson & Friends (1999). He has also choreographed events ranging from Super Bowl XXX, the 72nd Academy Awards, the 1996 Summer Olympics (Atlanta) and the 2002 Winter Olympics (Salt Lake City).
In 2006, Ortega directed and choreographed two Disney Channel Original Movies, High School Musical and The Cheetah Girls 2. Ortega would return as director and choreographer for High School Musical 2 in 2007 and High School Musical 3: Senior Year in 2008.
In May 2009, Ortega began work directing and choreographing the scheduled 50-date Michael Jackson This Is It concert residency at The O2 Arena, billed as Jackson's final concerts in London. The engagement was subsequently cancelled due to Jackson's sudden death in June 2009. Ortega would serve as the director of the Michael Jackson Public Memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which was broadcast live on several networks on July 7, 2009, reaching a television audience of 31 million in America and more than one billion worldwide. At the end of the service, he introduced a rendition of Jackson's 1985 charity single "We Are the World" created for the This Is It concerts, featuring Jackson's backing singers on lead vocals with his dancers performing around them. Ortega directed the concert film Michael Jackson's This Is It, which was put together from rehearsal footage recorded at the Los Angeles Forum and the Staples Center. The film was released on October 28 of the same year.
He was set to direct the 2011 Footloose remake, but dropped out in October 2009 due to differences with Paramount over the budget and tone of the film. Ortega was also hired to direct a film adaptation of the Broadway musical In the Heights for Universal, but the studio dropped the project in 2011 due to budgetary and casting issues. On August 9, 2011, it was announced that Ortega would direct a remake of Dirty Dancing, a project that was later postponed. The 2017 TV remake was filmed without Ortega's involvement.
In 2015, Ortega directed and choreographed Descendants for the Disney Channel, a film based on the children of legendary Disney Villains. He would return in the same capacity for its two sequels, Descendants 2 in 2017 and Descendants 3 in 2019.
That fall, he directed and served as executive producer of the Netflix Original series Julie and the Phantoms , which premiered on Netflix on September 10, 2020.
Ortega is openly gay, and in a 2014 interview with anti-bullying organization Bystander Revolution, he said that "as a gay man having grown up in the 50s and 60s, I have to say, I'm very proud of the industry that I work in," referring to the acceptance of people with different sexual orientations in show business.
In 2020, Ortega recalled being falsely arrested at the age of 21 after a chief of police planted narcotics in his hotel room, allegedly upset by his performance in a touring production of Hair. The charges were dropped after investigations were made, and Ortega recalled the arrest report identifying him as George Berger, the name of the character he played in the show.
Filmography and concerts
|Year||Title||Choreographer||Director||Producer||Rotten Tomatoes||Budget||Box office|
|1980||Xanadu||Yes||No||No||39%||$20 million||US$22.7 million|
|1982||One from the Heart||Yes||No||No||48%||$26 million||$0.6 million|
|1985||St. Elmo's Fire||Yes||No||No||47%||$10 million||$37.8 million|
|1986||Pretty in Pink||Yes||No||No||81%||$9 million||$40.4 million|
|1986||Ferris Bueller's Day Off||Yes||No||No||79%||$6 million||$70.1 million|
|1987||Dirty Dancing||Yes||No||No||72%||$5 million||$213.9 million|
|1988||Salsa||Yes||No||No||50%||$6 million||$8.8 million|
|1989||Shag||Yes||No||No||64%||$5 million||$6.9 million|
|1992||Newsies||Yes||Yes||No||30%||$15 million||$2.8 million|
|1993||Hocus Pocus||Yes||Yes||No||32%||$28 million||$39.5 million|
|1995||To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar||Yes||No||No||42%||N/A||$47.7 million|
|1998||Quest for Camelot||Yes||No||No||36%||$40 million||$22.5 million|
|2008||High School Musical 3: Senior Year||Yes||Yes||Executive||65%||$11 million||$252.9 million|
|2009||Michael Jackson's This Is It||Yes||Yes||Yes||81%||$60 million||$261.1 million|
|2017||A Change of Heart||No||Yes||No||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|1988||Dirty Dancing||No||Yes||No||2 episodes|
|1990||Hull High||Yes||Yes||Executive||2 episodes|
|1996||Second Noah||No||Yes||No||1 episode|
|1998–1999||Chicago Hope||No||Yes||No||2 episodes|
|2000||Resurrection Blvd.||No||Yes||No||1 episode|
|2001||Grounded for Life||No||Yes||No||1 episode|
|2001–2002||Ally McBeal||No||Yes||No||3 episodes|
|2002–2006||Gilmore Girls||No||Yes||No||11 episodes|
|2006||High School Musical||Yes||Yes||No||Television movie (budget: $4.4 million)|
|2007||High School Musical 2||Yes||Yes||Yes||Television movie (budget: $7 million)|
|2016||Crazy Ex-Girlfriend||No||Yes||No||1 episode|
|2016||The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again||Yes||Yes||No||Television movie|
|2017||Descendants 2||Yes||Yes||Executive||Television movie|
|2018||Andi Mack||No||Yes||No||1 episode|
|2019||Descendants 3||Yes||Yes||Executive||Television movie|
|2020||Julie and the Phantoms||Yes||Yes||Executive||Netflix series|
|1989–1990||Cher's Heart of Stone Tour||No||Yes||No|
|1991–1992||Gloria Estefan's Into The Light World Tour||Yes||No||No|
|1992–1993||Michael Jackson's Dangerous World Tour||No||Yes||No|
|1996–1997||Gloria Estefan's Evolution World Tour||Yes||No||No|
|1996–1997||Michael Jackson's HIStory World Tour||No||Yes||No|
|2003||Gloria Estefan's Live & Unwrapped||Yes||Yes||No|
|2004||Gloria Estefan's Live & Re-Wrapped Tour||Yes||No||No|
|2006||The Boy from Oz||Yes||Yes||No||Australian arena tour|
|2006–2007||High School Musical: The Concert||No||Yes||Yes|
|2007–2008||Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Tour||Yes||Yes||No|
|2009–2010 (cancelled)||Michael Jackson's This Is It||Yes||Yes||No|
Awards and nominations
|Year||Association||Category||Work / nominee||Result||Ref.|
|2001||Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Choreography||Grounded for Life||Nominated|||
|2002||Outstanding Choreography (shared with Doug Jack and Sarah Kawahara)||Opening Ceremony Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games||Won|||
|Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series (shared with Bucky Gunts and Ron de Moraes)||Won|||
|2006||Directors Guild of America Awards||Outstanding Directing – Children's Programs||High School Musical||Won|||
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Choreography (shared with Charles Klapow and Bonnie Story)||High School Musical||Won|||
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special||High School Musical||Nominated|||
|2007||Directors Guild of America Awards||Outstanding Directing – Children's Programs||High School Musical 2||Nominated|||
|Helpmann Awards||Best Choreography in a Musical (shared with Kelley Abbey)||The Boy from Oz||Won|||
|2008||ALMA Award||Outstanding Director of a Made-for-TV Movie||High School Musical 2||Won|||
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Choreography (shared with Charles Klapow and Bonnie Story)||High School Musical 2||Nominated|||
|2009||National Association of Latino Independent Producers||Outstanding Achievement Award||Kenny Ortega||Won|||
|Young Artist Award||Jackie Coogan Award – Contribution to Youth||High School Musical||Won|||
|2015||Directors Guild of America Awards||Outstanding Directing – Children's Programs||Descendants||Won|||
- "Kenny Ortega Interview, Michael Jacksons This Is It". moviesonline.ca. Archived from the original on November 1, 2009.
- Hartlaub, Peter (October 19, 2008). "Ortega directs 'High School Musical 3'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 31, 2010.
- Hernández, Lee (October 23, 2008). "Kenny Ortega: The man behind every step of 'High School Musical 3'". Daily News. New York.
- Setoodeh, Ramin (June 30, 2020). "Director Kenny Ortega on the Queer Aesthetic of His Movies From 'Hocus Pocus' to 'High School Musical'". Variety. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
- Littleton, Cynthia (October 3, 2008). "Kenny Ortega: From dancer to director". Variety. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
- "Kenny Ortega: Biography" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 18, 2008. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
- "Michael Jackson Gets Ready For Tour". Sky News. May 12, 2009.
- Hinckley, David; Huff, Richard (July 8, 2009). "Michael Jackson's memorial 2nd most-watched funeral ever, after Princess Di, say Nielsen ratings". Daily News. New York.
- "This Is It - Cast | IMDbPro". pro.imdb.com. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
- Fleming, Michael (October 25, 2009). "Ortega exits Paramount's 'Footloose'". Variety. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- Fleming, Mike Jr. (March 28, 2011). "Universal Dropping Musical 'In The Heights'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- Chaney, Jen (August 8, 2011). "'Dirty Dancing' the remake: Should it be pursued or put in a corner forever?". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
- "Disney Channel announces 'Descendants,' movie about the villains' kids". Hypable. December 12, 2013. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
- "Meet the 2019 Disney Legends to Be Honored at D23 Expo". D23. May 16, 2019. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
- Friedlander, Whitney (July 24, 2019). "'Descendants' Director Kenny Ortega Receives Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame". Variety. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
- "Kenny Ortega - As a Gay Man". IMDb. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
- Rooney, David (August 6, 2006). "The Boy from Oz". Variety. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- "53rd Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners". Emmys.com. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- "54th Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners". Emmys.com. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- Tomlinson, Alan (January 1, 2005). "Picturing the winter Olympics: The Opening ceremonies of Nagano (Japan) 1998 and Salt Lake City (USA) 2002" (PDF). Tourism, Culture & Communication. 5 (2): 83–92. doi:10.3727/109830405774791465. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
- "59th annual DGA awards". Director's Guild of America. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- "58th Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners". Emmys.com. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- "58th Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners". Emmys.com. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- "60th annual DGA awards". Director's Guild of America. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- "Past nominees and winners, 2007". Helpmann Awards. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- "ALMA Awards 2012". Alma Awards. Archived from the original on July 17, 2012.
- "60th Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners". Emmys.com. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- Crystal A. Johnson. "LTTS Exclusive: An Interview With High School Musical Director Kenny Ortega". Look to the Stars.
- "30th Annual Young Artist Awards". Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2012.
- "68th annual DGA awards". Director's Guild of America. Retrieved March 6, 2018.