By Chris Rooney
When Luis Salgado says, “California is wonderful,” it’s not a controversial opinion.
Salgado has performed, directed and choreographed around the world—so it means something.
And it must be sincere, because Salgado is back for a second turn at the helm of Transcendence Theatre Company, this time pumping Latin blood into many Broadway classics in Let’s Dance.
“We share a lot of similarities,” Salgado said of himself and Transcendence. “Our mission and values are parallel. When they asked me, I was in.”
Transcendence is a Sonoma County staple, having brought the best of Broadway to local audiences for more than a decade. Not only are familiar songs imported, but talent right off Broadway stages are flown in to perform them.
With Let’s Dance, however, the familiar classics will get Salgado’s Puerto Rican influence.
“We’ll have big, classic numbers,” Salgado said. “But instead of traditional tap, it will have Peruvian tap.”
He went on to describe his version of Phantom of the Opera as “funky” and said that his take on other standards—from Damn Yankees and Guys and Dolls and others—was akin to melding Bob Fosse with mambo.
Salgado will work with a roster of performers who have appeared in a who’s who of Tony-winning shows, from Les Misérables to 42nd Street and A Bronx Tale to Wicked.
Of the two dozen or so performers, 10 will be working with Transcendence for the first time. All of them, however, are in for a learning curve.
Salgado said he had some explaining to do to get the dancing up to speed. “It’s like learning a new vocabulary,” he said of mixing up classics with a Latin accent.
They’re in capable hands, as Salgado opened his own studio in Puerto Rico 13 years ago.
Beginning with just seven students, his school quickly expanded. In just five short years, he produced six shows and those seven students grew to 250.
He is a guest teacher at Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway and has taught internationally.
Salgado assembled a cast of Broadway’s best from around the country with a highly regarded roster of international performers that he has personally worked with for more than a decade.
“We are so thrilled to work with Luis again and have his vision, passion and energy infused into the opening show of our 11th season,” said Transcendence artistic director Amy Miller. “This season is going to be an eclectic mix of every type of entertainment, and we cannot wait to share a summer of excitement and dynamic talent with our community.”
As a performer, Salgado is one of those overachieving multi-hyphenates—dancer-singer-actor. His Broadway credits include On Your Feet, The Story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, In The Heights, The Mambo Kings and A Chorus Line.
Performing led to choreographing and directing—and ever greater success. He directed and choreographed the U.S premiere of the Spanish version of In The Heights at GALA Theatre in Washington DC, which received nine 2018 Helen Hayes Awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction and Best Choreography.
Minutes after taking time for this interview, Salgado was jetting back to Washington, DC for a special presentation of On Your Feet, which helped resurrect the career of Gloria Estefan, best known for churning out pop hits with the Miami Sound Machine in the 1980s.
Giving back to his—or any—community is important for Salgado. His devotion to social work inspired him to create his nonprofit agency, R.Evolución Latina, which aims to expose kids to the arts at a young age. As founder and director of R.Evolución Latina, he has helped empower more than 800 artists and 3,000 children through art programming.
As for Let’s Dance, Salgado is employing Sonoma County’s natural gifts. He said he is using the skyline—and the sunlight in particular—to help build drama.
“There’s sunlight for Act One,” he explained. “For Act Two, the sun has gone out. For the audience, it will be like two different shows.”
Salgado hasn’t had much opportunity to enjoy the environs he’s employing for the show; he’s been too busy to be a sightseer. But he still likes the place.
“Sonoma is one of the most magical places,” he said. Salgado has been impressed by the thoughtfulness of local drivers, who tend to share the road a bit more readily than the New Yorkers he experiences. “When you’re crossing 42nd Street,” he said. “You don’t get that.”
“We do have supporters who house the talent so the company—a nonprofit—isn’t spending a bunch of money on housing,” explained Miller. “It’s really cool, actually, to have the community step in like this.”
Added Salgado, “We have performers and creative staff from Puerto Rico, Colombia and Spain, all who are bringing their talent and life experiences to Jack London State Historic Park, and we are mixing that with the talents of the incredible performers and creative staff that have produced 10 unforgettable years of Transcendence shows. I invite everyone to dance, enjoy and embrace the experience.”
Let’s Dance opens Transcendence Theatre’s season and runs from June 17 to July at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen. Transcendence produces three original outdoor musical revues every summer, an indoor holiday show and occasional special performances.
Transcendence summer shows begin with a pre-show picnic featuring gourmet food trucks, vendors, pre-show entertainment and wine from local wineries. Performances take place in the open-air ruins of a historic winery.
Ticket prices range from $25 to $165 for individual shows, with savings of 15% with a season subscription. For tickets and more information, visit bestnightever.org or call the box office at 877-424-1414.