Since 2015, hip-hop dance crew Jabbawockeez has entertained crowds at Universal Studios Hollywood’s annual Halloween Horror Nights with its fast-paced, high-energy performances.
Happening multiple times per evening in the Castle Theatre located on the upper lot of the park, the roughly 20-minute shows feature the masked dancers performing various styles of dance along to multiple genres of music. Each year, the program is themed and with the 2022 installment, they’re exploring multiverses during the seasonal event, which runs select dates through Oct. 31.
“The concept is kind of a nod to ‘The Twilight Zone’ and all the multiverse movies and shows coming out,” founding member Joe Larot said during a recent phone interview. “So it’s like going into the Jabbaverse and we have all of these ways of going into different music genres. That was a fun play on the times, with everyone having their multiverses coming out these days.”
Jabbawockeez was formed in San Diego in 2003 by Larot and Kevin Brewer. Along with Phi Nguyen and Rynan Paguio, the guys recruited others to form a dance group that would go on to win the first season of “America’s Best Dance Crew” in 2008. Since then, the group has performed on several television shows, made appearances at high-profile sporting events and taken up residency in Las Vegas with multiple shows, including its latest, “Timeless,” at MGM Grand Hotel.
To keep the business running smoothly, Brewer said they seek local talent to join the crew for the nearly eight-week run at Universal Studios.
“We reach out to the community and find dancers that we are aware of and up-and-coming people as well, and bring them in and train them for the shorter stint at Universal,” he said. “Meanwhile, we can keep our production in Las Vegas and keep that going continuously because we don’t want to disrupt that. It’s our main point of contact in terms of sustaining our business and having a regular flow throughout the year.”
Since Jabbawockeez crew members all wear plain white masks — eerily similar to the one Michael Myers wears in the “Halloween” horror films — dancers can be swapped in and out as needed and Nguyen said it’s now a large crew “that we’ve been able to teach and spread that Jabbawokee ideology of movement to over the years, so it’s pretty cool.”
Paguio said the show serves as a bit of a palate cleanser during Halloween Horror Nights. It gives guests a second to catch their breath after screaming through all of the mazes and scare zones, he said.
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“Whenever you’re going through all of those mazes, you might just want to be in an area where you can go see a show and you don’t get scared,” he explained. “You can come into our show for 20 minutes, laugh and have a great time and that brings you back out to the mazes for a fresh start, you could say.”
Through the years members of Jabbawockeez have seen guests in the park showing up dressed like their on-stage personas. It’s an honor, Nguyen said, when those track suit-style outfits, masks and even the bucket hats are spotted on fans and the crew is out enjoying the evening in plain clothes and unmasked.
“It’s humbling because this is something we did as kids and we had this idea of hiding our faces and never realized that 20 years later as a crew there’d be kids dressed up like us out there on Halloween,” he said. “It’s very Peter Parker-ish, too, because you see them and they don’t even realize they’re standing right next to an original Jabbawockee, so that’s always a cool experience.”
It’s not totally all work and no play for the Jabbawockeez inside the theme park. They do get out and escape from time to time to run through the various attractions. Paguio said he’s developed a great appreciation for the hard work and creativity that goes into each maze.
“I’ve definitely gotten scared in them, but it’s gotten to a point where we’ve been doing this since 2015 and now, personally, I walk through the mazes and it’s not even about getting scared, it’s about the aesthetics and how creative they are in putting these mazes together,” he said. “The Weeknd maze was great to walk through and even some of the little changes to mazes they’ve done before, like ‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space,’ you can see the little things they’ve done to make it different. Going through Halloween Horror Nights, people are getting scared, but you can also hear them like ‘Oh my God, how did they do that? How did they make that work?’ So that’s pretty awesome and it’s a plus that we get to go on all the rides, too.”
Halloween Horror Nights
When: 7 p.m. select evenings through Oct. 31
Where: Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
Tickets: $72-$102 general admission; $179-$289 Universal Express; $219-$329 Universal Express Unlimited; $112-$154 After 2 p.m. Day/Night Passes; $319-$449 R.I.P. Tour; $199 Frequent Fear Pass; $329 Ultimate Fear Pass. All tickets are now on sale at universalstudioshollywood.com.