Choreographer Jamal Sims has been hard at work over the last few years delivering his creative movement in Aladdin, Encanto, and Descendants 3. Now, he’s stepping outside the Disney bubble to showcase his work on Netflix’s latest movie, 13: The Musical. The story follows 13-year-old Evan Goldman’s move from New York City to Indiana while navigating his parents’ divorce and trying to turn his bar mitzvah into the best party his new town has ever seen.
That meant Sims, along with his associate choreographer Nicky Andersen and assistant choreographer Amanda May, worked with a big cast of tweens and early teens. “They would not sit down — and I mean that in the best way,” he laughed, “When I would tell them to take a 15-minute break, I would come back to them doing the choreo. They ate it up, every second of it.” His real calling to do the movie was because of Jason Robert Brown’s music, something that Sims calls “genius.”
Once that got rolling into production, the cast had the luxury of an almost two-and-a-half-month rehearsal period (unheard of on most TV and film sets). The additional time was partially due to COVID restrictions in Toronto where they were “limited on time,” but Sims revealed that it also allowed the cast to feel comfortable with the choreography. “By the time we started shooting, they were ready to go, and I felt confident,” he said. “It didn’t feel like they were learning anything last minute — it felt like home.”
When asked if he had a favorite number from the movie that made him proud of the work he created for the screen, Sims noted that even though it was hard to choose, there was something so special about the opening number. “I’m from LA, so New York City always feels like a musical to me. I hear the street pounding, the horns honking — at any minute I feel like the music is going to come on and I’m doing to be in a musical. We don’t get that opportunity to shoot dance in New York like that anymore,” he shared enthusiastically. “The fact that I had the opportunity to put dance on the streets of New York is so awesome.”
Sims has a lot on his plate in the coming year, including the Grease prequel, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies. The 10-episode Paramount + series not only has him driving the choreography, but he was able to direct one episode as well — something he is looking forward to doing more of as his career progresses. He also has one big goal on his radar that he hasn’t achieved yet: directing a dance musical. . He doesn’t have a script but promised that it’s something that will happen at some point in the future. “That is the dream,” Sims revealed. “My trajectory has always been me choreographing and directing a musical — and I will make that happen.”