Call Julian DeGuzman’s dad Joe something of a visionary.
When Julian was growing up in Alameda, Joe spent many hours, days and years driving his son around to dance class after dance class. Ballet in Castro Valley. Tap in San Francisco. Gymnastics at UC Berkeley. Transmissions were not safe in a DeGuzman family car.
Unfortunately, while DeGuzman was cutting his teeth honing his talents in the dance world, other peers were not exactly kind and understanding of a kid who’d rather wear ballet slippers than baseball cleats. DeGuzman was unable to simply dance like no one was watching. In multiple strokes of bad luck, the bullies were watching. And those bullies, threatened by the perception of what a young male dancer is, made life pretty difficult.
“It was definitely hard at times,” said DeGuzman. “I would be picked on at school, and often wasn’t called very nice names.”
Joe’s guidance as his son dealt with the cruel side of adolescence is something that had a powerful effect on the younger DeGuzman, who recalls a particular moment that changed his life forever.
“When I would come home crying, he would always tell me, ‘You’ll be the one laughing when you are dancing on Broadway.’”
Broadway finally happened two years ago, with DeGuzman having landed a coveted role in the Disney Broadway blockbuster and eight time Tony winner “Newsies,” which dramatizes the events of the New York City news boys strike of 1899.
DeGuzman’s job was that of a swing, requiring him to know 14 different roles and be ready to perform any one of them in a moment’s notice, sometimes literally minutes before curtain. A little source of pride for DeGuzman was actually covering all 14 roles, the fastest in the cast to do so.
Now that the national tour is in full swing, it’s especially special because DeGuzman is returning to the place where it all started for him – the Bay Area, performing as an ensemble member in the SHNSF production of “Newsies,” which opens Feb. 18th at the Orpheum Theatre.
DeGuzman’s father heavily influenced his passion. While many of DeGuzman’s peers were heading off to sports practices, DeGuzman would go in an opposite direction, to a ballet studio to work on demi-plies and pirouettes.
“In my younger years, I resented it,” said DeGuzman. “My dad was a dancer and wanted to share his love of dance with my sister and I (DeGuzman’s sister Robyn is also a dancer and actress on Broadway). I didn’t actually enjoy dancing until later in middle and high school.”
That was when he found more friends who accepted and were even awed by his talent.
“I would do random little tricks and flips in front of my friends, and they would respond with things like, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’” said DeGuzman. “It really boosted my self esteem.
That self esteem boost guided him through a Bachelor of Fine Arts program at UC Irvine after graduating in 2005 from St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda. After an amazing run of competitions throughout the Bay Area in his younger years, all the training in the world was unable to prepare him for the most difficult performance he would have to endure. Those same legs that shaped his youth and his career were now threatening to shut him down for good.
A cancerous bone tumor in his left femur head was found in college. After some difficulties with his insurance, a surgery removed the tumor. Yet, not long after college graduation the tumor returned, and a second surgery commenced. But after that second surgery, the doctor had a question for him.
“What was your second major again?”
DeGuzman was only 24-years-old.
“Hearing that was a shocker, and my parents weren’t sure I would be able to dance again. But after a few months of grueling rehabilitation, I was able to build up my confidence and move to New York.”
Every day of that grueling rehab brought forth a new challenge to deal with, mostly in the organ that resides between the ears.
“The physical aspect of recovering was not as difficult as the mental challenge of being told you might not be able to dance again. To get through someone telling me that, and the mental aspects of dealing with those little baby steps to get in shape was the hardest part of all.”
With cancer firmly in his rear view mirror, DeGuzman is thrilled to be able to simply dance, but this time, like everyone is watching. And to return home to the Bay Area and take his place atop the Orpheum Theatre stage is a tribute to those who believed in him all the way.
“Every time I step on the stage, it’s for everybody who is a part of my life and helped me reach this point,” said DeGuzman. “There have been people with me every step of the way, whether it be friends from school or dance teachers who stayed up with me late in a studio rehearsing dance solos.
“Everything I do is for them and in honor of them.”
Julian DeGuzman on Twitter – @julianofguzman
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
SHNSF presents “Newsies”
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Feb. 17th – March 15th
Tickets range from $50 to $250
The Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market St., San Francisco, CA
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com