The salsa musical In the Heights, nominated for 13 Tony awards and co-written by the creator of Hamilton, is at the Sydney Opera House, January 16 to 20 and features Liverpool dancer Will Centurion in the company. He spoke to us from London where his partner is currently in The Rocky Horror Show. Will has worked on We Will Rock You (Zurich), Saturday Night Fever (Europe), Aida (Germany) and here on The Lion King, The King and I, West Side Story, A Chorus Line, King Kong and Aladdin.
The producers say In the Heights is about “chasing your dreams while staying connected to your community”. What's the benefit of staying connected to your own south-west Sydney community while chasing your dreams? It’s so true. I’ve travelled and performed all round the world and Liverpool is the place that connects all the dots. Being from Liverpool has motivated me to set my sights but it also keeps me grounded. I’ve never forgotten I’ve had to work hard to achieve what I’ve wanted and regardless of what I’ve accomplished I’m still a boy from the ’burbs. My family is in the south-west, and my friends, and the many events that shaped who I am. It’ll always be a big part of me.
London is about as far away from Liverpool as you can get! Yet here you are, talking to a reporter from Liverpool! You can't escape your roots, right? I’m in London to see my partner perform in The Rocky Horror Show. It looks amazing here, regardless of how freezing it is (3 degrees)! I’m actually talking to you on the train as I’m heading to London for the day to see two shows. I enjoy the chance to sit in an audience and watch performers. It reminds me how lucky I am and that I have a responsibility to perform well for the hundreds who’ve bought tickets for a show.
How long have you lived in Liverpool? Since I was 10. I went to Patrician Brothers Primary, Patrician Brothers Secondary and All Saints Catholic Senior High. When I was little I was part of the Caritas Singers Choir. We sang at Westfield Liverpool at Christmas. I also went to Spanish school every Saturday at Liverpool Girls High. It irked me at the time not to have weekends but I’m so grateful I can speak it.
I’ve never forgotten I've had to work hard to achieve what I’ve wanted and regardless of what I’ve accomplished I’m still a boy from the ’burbs.WILL CENTURION
What things about Liverpool shaped you as a person? It's changed a lot. It wasn't as populated and developed. I had to be street-smart when I was younger. Always making sure I had my wits about me when catching the train back home from the city or walking home at night. These things make you aware the world has a mix of people with agendas. it always pays to be aware of that. I always loved the multiculturalism in the south-west. There was a sense of acceptance. It’s the diverse mix of people who make Liverpool what it is.
Was everyone always supportive of you wanting to be a dancer? I didn’t start professional training until 18. My parents encouraged an academic development above all else. It was tough because that wasn’t my strong point and my passion was performing. I did what I had to do and finished year 12 and then pursued my heart. It was a long and lonely road sometimes, as my family had no idea of that world and couldn’t offer the emotional support I needed. But perseverance paid off and I forged a career in music theatre that’s lasted 20 years. As for when people say “Boys aren’t meant to dance” all I say is don’t stand in the way of someone who might be doing what they’re good at!
I always loved the multiculturalism in the south-west. There was a sense of acceptance. It’s the diverse mix of people who make Liverpool what it is.WILL CENTURION
South-west Sydney is the most multicultural region in Australia. For the most part it’s also, of necessity, one of the most accepting and affirming. Perhaps it has to be. I never experienced racism in the south-west although I’ve had to step in sometimes to help people who have English as a second language. It’s a melting pot of cultures and that’s beautiful. It’s not a person’s culture or religion that makes them a hindrance to society, it’s their individual agenda. Everyone is capable of good and bad behaviour, some people just lean one way more than the other. Living in the south-west has taught me to accept everyone’s differences. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything but I can have an opinion and still accept others.
How do characters in the show stay connected to their roots and their dreams? They demonstrate you can be part of something, love it, embrace it, respect it, and still want more. They each strive to grow and evolve, all the while knowing they’re motivated and limited by their environment. How they navigate those challenges is the key.
It’s not a person’s culture or religion that makes them a hindrance to society. Living in the south-west has taught me to accept everyone’s differences.WILL CENTURION
Do they achieve their dreams by show's end? In this show everyone’s journey is different. Each character is after their own happiness. But, as in life, that can change and what you thought you wanted may or may not end up being what you go for.
Tell us about your part in the show. I’m in the ensemble, I help the choreographer and I’m the dance captain – that means I help create choreography in rehearsals, I take warm-up and keep order during the show and I perform each night. It’s a lot of responsibility and I’m still learning to master it all but I love it.
Tell us about your own dreams. In my 20s I wanted to work and travel as a performer. In my 30s I wanted to choreograph and create shows. And now I’m 40 my dream is to work in counselling and coaching performers who need psychological support. I just finished four years of study, a juggling act while I was touring, but now I’m fortunate to have a BA in counselling. I’m moving to Melbourne once I finish In the Heights to work in a mental-health clinic that looks after performers’ bodies. This has been a dream of mine.
What will audiences take away from In the Heights? It's about community. It's about love for what we have and those priceless things. It’s a feel-good show with amazing music, fantastic singing and choreography and brilliant acting. People will leave with a smile on their faces and warmth in their hearts.
All stage performances can be fraught for many reasons. The thrill and exhilaration can be heightened by the sheer fact that so many things can go wrong! Yes, In this show I open the nightclub scene with a big salsa dance break with lifts. My partner in the show and I must have a lot of trust as there’s the potential for us to miss hands or fumble a step! Each time I must ensure I’m focused and present, for whatever may come up. It’s live theatre so there are times when you have to carry on even if it’s gone pear-shaped! Over the last 20 years I’ve had some real highs, and some times I wanted to disappear. In Aladdin, I fumbled the lyrics when I was in a lead role — you could see panic in my eyes! Luckily, I could rely on the other actors to get us back on track. Teamwork is the key to recovery, and also accepting that mistakes happen and that one bad moment doesn’t take away an entire performance!
Some moments of In the Heights you find especially exhilarating? Definitely the production number 96,000. The music, the vibe, the choreography, the lyric, the energy, it just keeps growing and growing until the number finishes. So much fun to do!
- In the Heights at the Sydney Opera House, January 16 to 20. Tickets from $49 (+ $8.50 fee).