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Meet the Tony Winners: Choreographer Sergio Trujillo of ‘Ain’t Too Proud’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Sergio Trujillo shares what it’s like to work with a cast of triple threats

Sergio Trujillo won a Best Choreography Tony Award for masterfully choreographing Ain’t Too Proud. The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards. Ain’t Too Proud brings the untold story of The Temptations to Broadway. The show stars Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope and Ephraim Sykes as the multitalented quintet. Ain’t Too Proud follows The Temptations' remarkable path from struggling in Detroit to getting into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With their fierce dance moves and unique harmonies, the band had 42 Top Ten Hits and 14 number one songs. Trujillo, was born in Colombia and moved to Toronto when he was twelve. He ultimately came to New York and danced on Broadway in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Guys and Dolls (1992), Victor/Victoria and Fosse. He made his choreographic debut with All Shook Up and also choreographed Jersey BoysA Bronx Tale, The Addams Family, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, On Your Feet!Hands on a HardbodyNext to Normal, Leap of Faith and Guys and Dolls (2009). 

Sergio Trujillo celebrate his Tony win for Best Choreography for ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Sergio Trujillo celebrate his Tony win for Best Choreography for ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

How did you become interested in dance?  
Sergio Trujillo: My journey here has been full of so many surprises. I'm an immigrant. I was born in Cali, Colombia. My family moved to Toronto, Canada, and then I moved to New York City around 30 years ago. I didn't set out to be a dancer. I found dance later on when I was around 18 or 19 when I was about to start university. I saw the show Canada's Wonderland and thought, “Oh my God, that is what I want to do.” I was bitten by the bug. And then when you fall in love like that, you  know you have discovered that thing you are meant to do. Life points you in the right direction, especially if you pay attention to the signs.

Growing up, what was your connection to the Temptations?
SJ: Growing up in Columbia, all I knew was Celia Cruz. I didn't actually know the Temptations until I got to Toronto in the 1970s. And even then it took me a while to really know all their body of work. Then, close to 20 years ago, I was asked to choreograph Peggy Sue Got Married on the West End. I wanted to do research on the time period. So I immersed myself in Hullabaloo, American Bandstand and anything I could get my hands on from that period. I studied the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Cadillacs. So that is when I became extremely well versed in the Temptations and their body of work and music.

What was it like to have won a Tony and then watch your cast perform?
ST: It just made it so much more worth it. I love the show. I love my cast. I love this particular story. I couldn't have won this without my stellar cast. All of them are triple threats. Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, James Harkness and Jawan M. Jackson are very much deserving of this.

What Broadway song do you adore?
ST: Listening to “Move On” from Sunday In The Park With George gives me great inspiration. The character Dot says, "Write what you know, George.” As artists, we're always looking for inspiration. I'm constantly tormented by what I do. I'm always trying to find inspiration. And listening to that song reminds me to follow my instincts. I had heard the song a long time ago, but hadn't really paid attention to the words until I saw Sunday in the Park With George. I was at a place in my career where I was looking for something to inspire me. And those words, “Write what you know, George…” really resonated.

What was your connection with the cast?
ST: Going into this show, I had a head start. Ephraim Sykes was was actually 20 years old when I hired him to do Memphis. He was one of my lead dancers in the show. Derrick Baskin was in also in Memphis. James Harkness was in three of my shows in Jeremy Polk danced in the Off-Broadway show, Invisible Thread.

Also, what has been great about the journey of Ain’t Too Proud is that we did it in Berkeley, Washington, Los Angeles and Toronto. We developed a sort of a shorthand in the process. When you open a show cold in New York City, it really creates a lot of pressure, a lot of stress. But in this way we were able to breathe life into it. Even the day before opening night, I was fine tuning choreography. I felt this was an opportunity for me to step up to bat and hit a home run.

Your cast is so extraordinarily talented.
ST: It’s a true collaboration. I was so incredibly fortunate to have my cast. For example, I would say to Ephraim: “I want you to do a double turn, but instead of landing on your two feet, I want you to go into a split. And then one more thing. While do you do that, throw your mic up in the air. And just before you come up from the split, I want you to catch the microphone.” He was like, “Okay.” For me to have my hands on that incredible talent made me a lucky choreographer.

For more of the best of Broadway this season, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in July 2019.

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