Gay Tony Nominee Sergio Trujillo on Making the Temptations Dance

"When they stop doing the scenes and you have this great music, you have to keep the ball in the air through dance."

Broadway stalwart Sergio Trujillo is Tony-nominated for Best Choreography for his work on Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations, which bagged a total of 12 nominations, including Best Musical. Trujillo’s choreography for the show (about the classic male Motown group that sang “My Girl”) is elaborate, sexy, soulful, and brimming with microphone spins and dramatic swoons. He was previously nominated for On Your Feet! (the conga-licious Gloria Estefan musical) and has many other credits to his name, including Memphis, The Addams Family, Next to Normal, and Summer (with three women playing disco queen Donna Summer). He’s also openly gay and married to actor Jack Noseworthy. I spoke to him about his well-rehearsed triumphs.

Hello, Sergio. You came to New York City 30 years ago as a young dancer.

I’m originally from Colombia via Toronto. I was training, but not committing to being a dancer. My second year of chiropractic school in ‘88, I took a year off and decided, “If I’m gonna do it, I’ve got to come to New York.” But there was nothing going on, so I then went to L.A., where a teacher said, “They’re having an audition for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.” I went to the audition not knowing who Jerome Robbins was—I was still an academic. A few months later, I got a call to be a replacement in the Broadway company and my life changed. Here we are 30 years later!

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Sergio Trujillo.

Amazing. How did you evolve into a choreographer?

I knew all along that I wanted to choreograph, it was just a matter of when. I’ve always been a student of sorts. By aligning myself with people like Jerry Mitchell, Rob Marshall, Debbie Allen, and Michael Peters, those were great teachers. I danced for them, but I also assisted them on various projects. Fosse was my final show. While I was in it, I knew I would stop dancing and choreograph. The entire time in the show, I was in mourning, knowing I was going to move on. As soon as I finished Fosse in 1999, I decided to go back to Canada and did a couple of shows at the Stratford Festival, including an acclaimed production of West Side Story. Then I met with [director] Des McAnuff to choreograph Jersey Boys. That was a pivotal moment.

Would you say you’re the go-to guy for jukebox shows?

I call them autobiographical shows because they’re dealing with a specific story of a group or pop icon. Right now, this is the phase I’m in. Des [who also directed Summer and Ain’t Too Proud] and I figured out a way of reinventing each of these ideas. I was also able to do On Your Feet!, which gave me a closer look into my culture. A friend said that at the time of Shakespeare—not that we’re doing Shakespeare—they wrote about kings and queens, but we don’t have royalty anymore. Instead, we look to pop stars that have dramatic and tumultuous experiences that people can be inspired by or wowed by. In the movies, too—the Elton John film and so on. It’s in the zeitgeist.

I loved what I saw of the swirling dancing in the Donna Summer musical.

Thank you. I love the 1970s because of the decadence, and I enjoyed seeing it through a modern lens.

One interesting thing about Ain’t Too Proud is that you didn’t recreate the old Motown choreography.

I thought it was important for me to take liberties and be able to rise up to the challenge of meeting this legendary group. Dance has changed and we’ve evolved. Of course, the Temptations were an inspiration to many groups, but ultimately I knew that coming up with my own recipe, my own vocabulary for the show was really important. If I put up those old moves, they wouldn’t withstand the environment in which their story’s told. There’s great drama and pathos in the story. When they stop doing the scenes and you have this great music, you have to keep the ball in the air through dance.

And you had no problem finding guys who could do all of that?

It was one of the most thrilling auditions I’ve ever held. On the final callback, I had 25 to 30 of the most talented African American triple threats. It was so incredibly humbling and heartbreaking because I could only use five of them.

And it’s a very physical show. I figure they’re all sweating up a storm by the curtain call.

They’re all shredded.

Have you always been openly gay in your career?

Yes. I grew up in Latin America, where it’s sort of taboo and comes with challenges. I ran away from home to New York, where I could be myself, aside from coming here to live out my dreams. This is a place that is so incredibly accepting. Many of us are misfits.

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From left: Sergio Trujillo and Jack Noseworthy.

It’s the island of misfit toys. Have you ever experienced homophobia in the business?

Being an immigrant, I’ve always sort of seen myself as equal and in a certain naïve way—if I got cut or not hired, it was because I wasn’t good enough, not because I’m Latin. I’m sure I wasn’t the right type. “I need to be better.” That’s the mentality of a dancer. I live in a delusional world of theater, where we go to rehearsal rooms and the theater, surrounded by people who are just like us. When I traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, with Ain’t Too Proud, for the first time in 30 years of being in America, I experienced homophobia and racism. The way they look at you. The way people at the front desk look at you. A slight condescending response or treatment.

I’m so sorry to hear that. On a brighter note, how did you meet your husband, Jack Noseworthy?

I met him when I was doing Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. The first day, I came in to meet the cast and thought, “This is the most handsome, dreamiest blond boy I’ve ever seen.” We now have a son, a 14-month-old boy named Lucas Alejandro Truworthy. We combined our surnames.

But you got top-billing. It could have been Nosejillo.

That didn’t quite flow. It’s not quite as elegant. [Laughs]

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.