Jersey Boys brings Toronto choreographer home

Toronto-raised choreographer Sergio Trujillo is making what he calls a triumphant return this week with the Canadian debut of Jersey Boys.

Toronto-raised choreographer Sergio Trujillo packed up his dancing shoes and went south nearly a decade ago for a career that saw him broke and living in his car in Los Angeles and cleaning bathrooms in a New York studio before he hit the big time.

He is making what he calls a "triumphant" return this week with the Canadian debut of Jersey Boys.

Trujillo, who also is working on CBC reality TV series Triple Threat in its second season, worked with Des McAnuff on Jersey Boys in its original production in New York in 2005.

The Dancap production of the hit musical begins previews Thursday at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Jersey Boys is the rags-to-riches tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the band from Newark, N.J., responsible for '60s hits such as Sherry and Big Girls Don't Cry.

"[The Four Seasons] are blue-collar kids who had a dream, and it sort of crosses all barriers and boundaries," Trujillo said.

"Every person who's had a dream and thought long and hard to achieve it, their success is an example of that."

McAnuff, artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, directs the Toronto production. The Toronto-born McAnuff also helmed the show in New York. 

Long road back

The New York show won four Tony Awards, including best musical.

The Toronto production stars Joseph Leo Bwarie as Valli, original Broadway cast member Steve Gouveia as Nick Massi, Canadian Jeremy Kushnier as Tommy DeVito and Andrew Rannells as Bob Gaudio.

Original Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio, who composed the music for Jersey Boys,  is expected to be at the Toronto premiere, said producer Aubrey Dan.

It's been a long road back to Toronto for Trujillo, who moved to Los Angeles in 1989 because, he said, there just weren't as many opportunities for dancers in Canada back then.

L.A. did offer opportunities, but in order to seek them out, Trujillo had to buy a car. With only enough money left to pay for either dance classes or a motel room, Trujillo chose the classes and lived in his vehicle for a while.

Later, while living in New York, he had to scrub toilets in a dance studio late at night after taking classes there during the day.

"As far as the auditions went, there were endless, endless times when I was turned down, so I did struggle but I also was able to achieve great things," he said.

Can-do attitude

He went on to dance in six Broadway productions and at the Oscars before becoming known as a choreographer.

He's toured with Paula Abdul, shared the stage with Michael Jackson at an MTV special and worked all over Europe and Asia.

He's lending that can-do attitude to the CBC-TV young talent search Triple Sensation as a panel judge and a mentor.

"You have to have tough love with all these young people because it takes a lot of hard work and some of them think that ... it's just overnight," said Trujillo.

Now he's splitting his time between San Diego — where he's working on the musical Memphis — and Toronto, while making his home in New York.

Trujillo, who was born in Cali, Colombia, but grew up in Toronto, is also set to go to Germany later this month to choreograph a stage version of Tarzan.

Next year, he'll stage a Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, to be directed by McAnuff, and is expected to work in Stratford, Ont.