Musical Theatre Director Luis Perez
comes from an overachieving family. His parents,
both physicians, emigrated from Cuba
to the Orlando, Fla., area in the 1950s for a
better life – his father rising to become the
president of the Florida Medical Association
and his mother being recognized as the nation's
first female doctor from Cuba.
A chemistry major and math minor in high
school, Perez was supposed to follow in the
footsteps of his parents as a medical doctor,
just as his younger brother, Tico, would rise
to prominence as a practicing lawyer and
the National Commissioner and head of
the Boy Scouts of America.
But his career plan shifted when Perez, who
had been active in martial arts, football and
track, became ill in high school. Bedridden
for weeks, he knew he needed to get on his
feet and back in shape, so he took the advice
of a girlfriend who told him to try dance.
"I remember taking a men's ballet class in
high school, and totally getting hooked," said
Perez, who, at 15 years of age, sat his father
down one day and told him he wanted to be
a dancer. "I thought my father was going to
explode," Perez recalls today. "But he made
me a deal: If I could get all As and graduate
early he would let me go to New York (on
a Joffrey Ballet scholarship) and dance for
Perez met those conditions, but never came
home, eventually becoming a principal dancer
with the Joffrey. working with such dance and
choreography luminaries as Agnes DeMille,
Robert Joffrey, Gerald Arpino, Twyla Tharp
and Jerome Robbins, Perez danced with the
Joffrey Ballet for six years until he suffered
a hip injury at age 27.
Switching over to musical theatre, Perez
went on to Broadway, appearing in 11 different
shows including as a member of the
original New York cast for The Phantom of
the Opera in 1988, Jerome Robbins' Broadway
in 1989, Ain't Broadway Grand in 1993 and
Dangerous Games in 1997. He also starred
in the 1986 national tour of West Side Story
and New York Opera's Brigadoon. Eeach
show was physically and emotionally challenging,"
said Perez, who for Joffrey Ballet
performances of Romeo and Juliet, did 15
double turns – jumping in the air and spinning
twice each time before landing.
A choreographer and performer on Broadway
for shows like Man of La Mancha and The Civil
War, and fight director for Broadway's Wild
Party, Marie Christine and Dangerous Games,
Perez recalls in the latter show doing so much
jumping, lifting and fighting – non-stop on
stage for 40 minutes – that he actually had
to take oxygen off stage in order to complete
his final solo performance.
"If you are to be successful, you have to invest
yourself in every show and in every character,"
said Perez, who has also danced beside
Mikhail Baryshnikov and has appeared on
TV, in commercials and in film. "It can be
emotionally draining, but it is the beauty of
what we get to do – which is to live inside a
character and then leave that character at
the stage door."
Perez joined Roosevelt's Theatre Conservatory
in 2005 to spend more time with his wife,
former Broadway star and award-winning
choreographer Tina Paul, and their two
sons, then ages 12 and 20. In 2008, Perez
became head of the conservatory's musical
theatre program. Each year, he directs and
choreographs at least one major musical
on the University's seventh-floor O'Malley
His adaptation of Thoroughly Modern Millie, a
musical based on the book by Dick Scanlan
and Richard Henry Morris, and new music
by Jeanine Tesori and new lyrics by Scanlan,
premieres April 16-19, 2014 at O'Malley.
"I primarily identify myself as a dancer because
I'm able to express myself best in that
discipline," said Perez. "But I've done every
aspect of theatre non-stop since the age of
17. I've never done anything else in my life
and what I've come to realize is that theatre is
one of the few disciplines that is passed down
from one person to another, and generation
to generation. It's not something that can be
learned in books."
"I'm just happy to be able to pass on to my
Roosevelt students what was once passed
on to me," he added.