Dallas — Sergio Trujillo is one of the busiest choreographers on Broadway today with his name attached to hit shows like Jersey Boys (2005), Memphis (2009) and The Addams Family (2010). Most recently he choreographed the new Alan Menken musical Leap of Faith and is currently directing and choreographing the Broadway production and national tour of Flashdance.
Colombian-born Trujillo received his Bachelor’s degree in Science from the University of Toronto and also studied to be a chiropractor before heading to Broadway. He made his Broadway debut as a performer in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 1989 and also appeared in Guys and Dolls (1992) and Fosse (1999) before trying his hand at choreography.
Jersey Boys, winner of a Tony, Grammy and Olivier Award for Best Musical, is based on the lives of Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi of The Four Seasons. Joining Trujillo on the Jersey Boys creative team is director Des McAnuff, book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, composer Bob Gaudio and lyricist Bob Crewe.
TheaterJones asks choreographer Sergio Trujillo about the show’s popularity, blending dance moves from the past and present, what he looks for in a dancer and his plans for the future.
Jersey Boys runs June 12 – July 15, 2012, at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, presented by the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Lexus Broadway Series.
TheaterJones: How did you get involved with the Jersey Boys production?
Sergio Trujillo: I’ve worked with Bob Gaudio before and the last time he said he was thinking about doing a show based on his life with The Four Seasons. It wasn’t until two years later that my manager told me that they were looking for a choreographer for the show Jersey Boys based on the lives of The Four Seasons. I found out the director was Des McAnuff, a fellow Canadian, and we met for 20 minutes in a studio in Burbank, Calif., and we just clicked. We saw things the same way and that’s where our relationship started.
What kind of research did you do beforehand?
By the time I did Jersey Boys I had done Peggy Sue Got Married which took place in the ‘50s and ‘60s and I did another show called All Shook Up which took place in the ‘50s. So, I had watched a lot of extensive footage of “American Bandstand,” “Hullabaloo,” the beach Frankie videos and anything else I could get my hands on. So, by the time I got to Jersey Boys I had the knowledge and resources and it was just a matter of me figuring out how to create a vocabulary that feels fresh and new and doesn’t just imitate homage to the period.
Was it difficult to blend the dance moves from the ‘50s and ‘60s with today’s styles?
No, I think my main job was to create vocabulary that was character driven. The choreography needs to feel as though it’s happening spontaneously. The movement also has to feel like it’s coming from each one of the characters and not like I’m forcing movement on them. It has to come from the characters because each one of the four guys is very different.
Are the four lead characters of the show actors with some dance background or vice versa?
I call them actors/singers who move. Some of them move very well and some of them have had challenges. So, we’ve had camps where they spent an extensive period of time with me studying voice and dance. Some of them make it through the camp and end up in the company and some of them don’t. Tommy is the best dancer out of the all the guys with his show off character, but really all the guys have a good sense of movement.
To what would you attribute the show’s popularity?
I think something really special happens no matter where we go with the show. In that the audience begins to buy into the story that they’re watching and listening to. They become so involved and invested that they actually think they are watching The Four Seasons onstage. Therefore, they begin to root for them. It’s about the blue-collar [guy] fighting to achieve a dream which is basically the American dream. And of course it is scored by one of the greatest pop groups of all time with music and melodies that are universally recognized. And being the heartbeat of the show I think the music really supports the story that we’re trying to tell in a beautiful way.
Did you feel any pressure choreographing to such universally recognized songs?
Not at all because The Four Seasons didn’t really dance; they just stood behind the microphone. So, I had the great opportunity to create choreography that I thought The Four Seasons would do knowing what we know now and giving them a sense of style. I really embraced the challenge.
Do you like to choreograph on the spot or do you work out movement ahead of time?
No matter what I do I always like to come in with a plan or a sketch. So, coming into the show I had done a period of about three weeks where I created a vocabulary for each one of the numbers. I don’t generally like to walk in without having a very specific plan. Once I’m in the room I’m good on my feet, but I just feel the more time I spend planning the more specific I can be with my creativity. But you also have to be able to be in the moment.
What qualities do you look for in a dancer?
I think what’s most important to me is that the dancer is able to follow my rules and my movement. But it’s also important that they bring their own special quality because I’m always interested in creating movement based off of each person’s best qualities
What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to auditioning dancers?
I think when you’re in an audition you have to stay focused and you have to think of it as a one-on-one with you and the choreographer. It’s those people that are so focused in the moment and in what it is that their learning that draws my attention. They also need to be secure in who they are and what they have to offer.
You’re currently directing and choreographing Flashdance? Do you enjoy directing as much as choreographing?
I do, but I think it has to be show-specific. It’s just a natural thing for me to do especially with a musical where I can tell the story through dance. I have to be able to have a show that moves through dance.
This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.