“Everyone has an idea of what they think these icons are,” reveals Sergio Trujillo. The choreographer earned his second Tony nomination for “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” The legendary status of The Temptations put pressure on Trujillo to “outdo myself.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Two challenges presented themselves in choreographing this biographical musical: how to surmount the pressure of expectation and how to make the movements of an infamous group fresh. So Trujillo asked himself: “If I was the choreographer of The Temptations, what would I do today?” This is after all a dramatic adaptation, and dance has evolved since the 1950’s. Trujillo knew that simply lifting the real-life dance moves of the singing group “would not have crossed over” to the stage.
The choreographer knew it is in a way unfair to simply recreate moves, so he watched “anything I could get my hands on that had movement from that period” for inspiration. Thankfully, Trujillo has a wealth of knowledge about adapting famous recording group’s moves to Broadway. His previous nomination was a result of his high energy conga in “On Your Feet” (which told the story of Gloria Estefan), and he has worked on “Jersey Boys” and “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” Trujillo describes a process where he crafts a “brand new vocabulary” for the artists’ dances in order to adapt them to the stage. Frankie Valli, after all, hardly moved at all when he and The Four Seasons took the stage. “We actually have to make a character for the show” so the movement language must stay true to the artist, while also evolving.
Most of that evolution occurs in the studio before he meets with the actors. “If you could be a fly on the wall in that room, it’s my moment” he says, “It’s my true self.” But the blueprint he assembles during that preparation gets tailored to each individual performer. In this case, five men with varying levels of dance training, portray The Temptations (three of them are now Tony nominated: Derrick Baskin, Jeremy Pope and Ephraim Sykes). So Trujillo approaches the actors as a tailor would fit a suit to buyer. “You design a suit, you try it on a person” he explains, “then you have to tailor make it for the person.”
The Tony Award nominations were kind to “Ain’t Too Proud,” as the hit show grabbed a whopping 12 nominations. Trujillo loves getting the chance to celebrate the current Broadway season and admits it feels incredible to be “following in the footsteps of so many iconic, legendary artists. However, the best part has been sharing the experience with the “Ain’t Too Proud” team. “This time around I got the most joy out of finding out that Derrick, Jeremy and Ephraim were nominated” he says, “I actually burst into tears.” After years of hard work together, the fact that so many collaborators were nominated feels like “a true triumph.”
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