The Ubiquitous Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo

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06 Apr 2010

Sergio Trujillo
Sergio Trujillo
Aubrey Reuben

Four Broadway musicals at the moment — The Addams Family, Jersey Boys, Memphis, Next to Normal — have choreography by one man. Meet Sergio Trujillo.

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"One, two, three, four."

Choreographer Sergio Trujillo is no doubt familiar with that that countdown. He's probably spoken it countless times to his dance chorus as a lead-in to rehearsing a number. But currently, it could serve a second purpose — as a way to count the number of shows he has on Broadway.

One: Jersey Boys, the long-running jukebox musical smash that put the former dancer on the map as a rising choreographer. Two: Next to Normal, the intimate, offbeat portrait of family dysfunction that showed he could do small musicals as well as big. Three: Memphis, the propulsive, dance-heavy show about the birth of rock and roll, that proved a surprise critical hit when it opened last fall. And four: The Addams Family, the Nathan Lane-Bebe Neuwirth vehicle now at the Lunt-Fontanne.

The last time something like this happened was during a few short months in fall 2001, when Susan Stroman furnished Broadway with the simultaneous attractions of Contact, The Music Man, The Producers and Thou Shalt Not.

"This past year, I never predicted it or planned on it," said Trujillo, who is modest about his current ubiquity. "You know, you spend years working on shows and by fate they all just end up happening at the same time. Some of it has to do with the fact that I've chosen to be very clear about my career and who I want to work with. I've picked great projects to be involved with."

 

The original cast of Jersey Boys.
photo by Joan Marcus

The chips of Trujillo's career didn't fall exactly as you might expect. Typically, it takes a big critical and popular hit to establish a choreographer's reputation (with Stroman, it was Crazy for You), and one would imagine that his current string of shows were all born of the well-received snappy, '60s-style footwork he designed for Jersey Boys. But the Memphis job actually came his way before Jersey Boys became a hard-to-get ticket.

When working with director Christopher Ashley and bookwriter Joe DiPietro on the Broadway show All Shook Up in early 2005, DiPietro told Trujillo (whose name is pronounced tru-HEE-yo) about a new musical the two men were working on, called Memphis. It just took four years for the show to finally get to Broadway.

The Addams Family, conversely, did grow out of Trujillo's Jersey Boys work. Bookwriters Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman remembered Trujillo when they began work on the musical adaptation of cartoonist Charles Addams' ghoulish creations.

 

Aaron Tveit and Alice Ripley in Next to Normal.
photo by Joan Marcus

Trujillo has connections among the Next to Normal creative family as well. He and lyricist Brian Yorkey had worked together on a show called The Wedding Banquet in Seattle in 2002. And director Michael Greif and he had long been looking to work together. "I knew going into the project that it wasn't a choreographer's show," said Trujillo. "But I was very attracted to the subject matter. And after doing a huge musical like Jersey Boys, I wanted to focus on something a little different."

Unlike Stroman, or choreography giants like Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse (creators Trujillo knows well, having danced on Broadway in Jerome Robbins' Broadway and Fosse), Trujillo doesn't have a recognizable artistic signature. Rather, he adapts his skills to the project at hand.

"The thing about Memphis is, dance really works in that piece, and dance pays off, and it really makes sense," he said. "Then there are those shows that require the choreographer to service the material, to support it and not veer off the main focus of the story. I wanted to make sure that with The Addams Family that I was servicing the show and collaborating in such a way that I didn't take away from the audience, and we didn't suddenly stop to dance for no reason."



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