GYPSY OF THE MONTH: Julius Sermonia of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'
At Stratford, Julius has appeared with his brother in Guys and Dolls, Anything Goes (where they played the Chinese gamblers), Camelot and Jesus Christ Superstar. His sister was in Stratford’s West Side Story with him in 2009—a production starring Paul Nolan and Chilina Kennedy, now headlining Superstar as Jesus and Mary Magdalene, as Tony and Maria. Sermonia portrayed Chino, a role he also had in a 2005 production of West Side Story at Theatre Calgary and Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre (which Jason was in too).
Julius’ additional regional credits include The Drowsy Chaperone at Manitoba Theatre Centre, Beauty and the Beast at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, and Hair at Toronto’s CanStage. His other shows at Stratford include Evita, My One and Only, Cabaret, The Music Man, Oklahoma, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Kiss Me, Kate. The 2009 Forum had a run the next year at Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.
Doing shows set everywhere from ancient Rome to Weimar-era Germany to the early-20th-century Midwest, Sermonia clearly hasn’t been typecast by his ethnicity. Among his featured roles have been a Brooklyn-esque gangster in Drowsy Chaperone and one of the Rhythm Boys (a group originally portrayed on Broadway by African-Americans) in My One and Only. He put on a Scottish accent to understudy Mordred last year in Stratford’s Camelot and found truth in his Oklahoma cowman when he learned that the earliest cowboys were Spanish settlers.
Getting to be in these iconic musicals is just one of the things Sermonia treasures about working at Stratford, where a couple of musicals run in repertory each April–October season with about 10 plays, half of them Shakespeare or other classics. “You’re not only a part of two musicals in rep,” he explains, “but you’re also watching all these classical actors perform...all these legendary greats, like Christopher Plummer, that you get to pony up to the bar with. Hearing their stories and then watching them on stage, my jaw’s dropping. To me, I got paid to learn from all these people.”
Sermonia has now done five consecutive seasons, six total, at Stratford. The company’s been headed since 2008 by artistic director Des McAnuff, formerly of La Jolla Playhouse in southern California. “Des comes along and brings in all these amazing directors to work with,” remarks Sermonia, who’s been directed by such Broadway vets as Gary Griffin and John Doyle at Stratford.
He also enjoys the ambience in the town of Stratford (pop. 31,000), which is located about two hours southwest of Toronto and sits—like its namesake in England—on an Avon River. “It’s very cozy,” says Sermonia. “The atmosphere there is very ‘white picket fence’: The mailman would wave to you, you say hi to your neighbors. Everybody’s riding their bikes. It’s a beautiful small town, a great place to work.”
Having skipped college to go work at Disney World right out of high school, Sermonia appreciates the training he’s gotten at Stratford. “They offer a lot of classes for company members,” he says. “That was huge for me as an education.” Working on specific shows, he’s learned about other subjects through the extensive research that the creative teams often share or encourage. On Superstar, for example, a dramaturge provided religious and historical background and information about life in Judea. “It was up my alley,” Sermonia says. “I always wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was growing up.”
Most of his time at Disney World, Sermonia had his eye on the West Coast. “Orlando was going to be my stop to L.A.,” he says. “I wanted to move to L.A. and dance for Michael Jackson—or Janet, any of the Jacksons. I wanted to be a commercial dancer. I’m a technical dancer but I also love hip-hop. I wanted to do all that.”
A Disney coworker, convinced Sermonia’s singing and acting talents shouldn’t go to waste, started showing him video clips of Broadway musicals like Rent, Evita and Fosse. Today Sermonia too is convinced that “where I belong is on stage—the proscenium—entertaining people that way. I’m a song-and-dance guy.” And he gets to live out his pop-music dreams vicariously through his friend Leo Moctezuma, whom he met at Disney and who now dances for the likes of Beyoncé and Britney Spears.
Content with the choice he made, Sermonia is now also happy to be back on Broadway—the pinnacle for any theater performer. “I feel very blessed to come to New York with a job already, instead of pounding the pavement auditioning,” he says. But he did need to reacclimate after so many years in the much more intimate city of Stratford. “There, everywhere you go there’s people that recognize you from the Festival. I really enjoy the anonymity in New York. No one notices you if you want to. Here, you put on your earphones and get where you need to go.”
Of course, the theater community has its own insularity. Sermonia was tickled to discover that he’s on the boards at the same time as Telly Leung (Godspell) and Aaron J. Albano (Newsies), as they’d all worked together early in their careers in a 2003 production of Miss Saigon at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.
Photos of Julius, from top: right, in Jesus Christ Superstar, with his brother, Jason, behind him on the left (also pictured, from left, are Jeremy Kushnier, Mary Antonini and Nick Cartell); as Mistoffelees on the Cats national tour; in Manitoba Theatre Centre’s The Drowsy Chaperone, with Eric S. Robertson; in My One and Only at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival; working at Disney World in 1998. [Jesus Christ Superstar photos by Joan Marcus; Drowsy Chaperone photo by Bruce Monk; My One and Only photo by David Hou]
Where to see some previous Gypsies of the Month currently (click on asterisk next to name to read our profile of that performer):
* Cameron Adams is in Nice Work If You Can Get It.
* Ashley Amber is in Evita.
* Dennis Stowe is in Leap of Faith.
* Anthony Wayne and * Alysha Umphress have joined the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
* Kristine Bendul and * Spencer Liff have been regulars on Smash.