We Will Rock You Choreographer Beats The Odds
#LSN_Arts Magnus's choreographer Julie Tomaino
The Thunder Bay debut of choreographer Julie Tomaino resulted in the energetic display of talent that brings We Will Rock You to life at Magnus Theatre. Julie’s story is a courageous tale of the dancer’s spirit, passion and a determination to beat the odds.
Earlier this year, Magnus Theatre Artistic Director Thom Currie invited Julie to join the We Will Rock You production team. Julie, who has a successful career as a choreographer and director, readily accepted, thrilled at the opportunity to work in Thunder Bay on the first regional theatre production of the Queen musical. Life, however, was going to throw her a curve ball.
On April 9, 2017, Tomaino suffered a debilitating series of intense, life-threatening strokes that rendered her unable to speak or move. Finding blood clots in her carotid arteries on both sides of her neck, doctors forecast that she would need months to recoup her speech alone, and that she would most likely be forced to step away from We Will Rock You. Motivated by the challenge, Julie dedicated herself to her recovery using something that is always at a dancer’s core: discipline. She philosophizes that to be able to accept where you are is part of being able to see where you want to go.
From initially only being able to blink her responses, Tomaino slowly and determinedly reclaimed control over her body. Growing stronger, she worked very closely with Toronto Rehab in order to prepare for her work on the show, painstakingly regaining her ability to communicate and move. It was then that her friend and colleague Robert Allan stepped in with his help.
Tomaino and Allan have known each other for many years. Both in their thirties, they worked as dancers in numerous productions, although neither remembers their first meeting. Following her final stint as a dancer (as a Radio City Rockette in New York), Julie decided to pursue choreography. She and Robert next crossed paths at Sheridan College, where they are both educators in the Musical Theatre Performance Program. It was here that their friendship developed into a warm partnership.
As Julie prepared to choreograph We Will Rock You, Robert came aboard to act as her arms, legs and sometimes voice. When the team arrived in Thunder Bay and rehearsals went into full swing, Julie continued to get her strength back and became less reliant on Robert. Working with Musical Director Danny Johnson and Director Thom Currie, the choreography team was a crucial part of an intense and marvellous machine that drew the very best from the performers. Tomaino’s ability to harness each dancer’s natural skills make for a stirring and brilliant tribute to a rock legend, and her choreography stands as a testament to the human spirit and determination.
Exactly five months to the day after her stroke, We Will Rock You opened to wild acclaim on the Magnus Theatre stage. The show has been extended to September 30 and has become one of the hottest tickets in town.