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By Lauren Kay
Samantha Sturm is a creature of contradictions. Warming up before James Kinney’s theater dance class at New York’s Peridance Capezio studios, she seems the epitome of a shy, girlish ballerina. As she practices tendus, she stares critically at herself in the mirror. Her toes are stretched and articulated, her port de bras graceful and weightless. But once the music starts, classical style melts into a jazzy slink. Performing Kinney’s Fosse-esque combinations, Sturm is in full throttle, with a sly confidence in her struts and sky-high développés. It’s her essence distilled: a stunning seductress with the soul of a lyrical technician.
Her ability to range from innocent to fierce and classical to stylized makes her intriguing—and Broadway heavy-hitters have noticed it. After climbing the ranks in regional musical theater and on national tours, Sturm has earned a spot as a swing in The Addams Family. She’s now on call for all five female ensemble parts, mastering Sergio Trujillo’s choreography for each.
For Trujillo, who first met Sturm when she auditioned for his Broadway hit Memphis, she is indispensable. “Because of her strong classical training you can throw anything at her,” he says. “She has wonderful lines, she is ridiculously flexible, and she’s the sum of all things I need: a smart, studious, quick dancer, singer, and actress. I wanted her in one of my shows—badly.”
The moment she encountered Trujillo’s choreography, Sturm felt the same way. When Addams Family auditions were announced, she was determined to be cast. At an open call, she found out that only one swing spot was available. “I thought, ‘That’s my job,’ ” she says. Luckily, she got called back. But a week later at her final callback, one of the artistic team members called Sturm by the wrong name—a bad omen, she thought. “I made a joke afterward,” she says. “But when I left I was devastated.” She answered her agent’s call an hour later, ready for a critique. When she learned she had booked the gig, “I cried,” she says. “I literally fought for that job. Talk about dancing for your life!”
The daughter of a ballet mother (Washington Ballet) and musical-theater father, Sturm says she spent her life working toward that day. She began ballet training at her parents’ studio, Northern Virginia Dance Academy in Manassas, Virginia, at age 8. “My mother taught me to focus on technique,” she says.
Though Sturm loved classical ballet, “I never wanted to be a ballerina,” she says. “I wanted to be a girl Gene Kelly.” When she was 6, performing at Constitution Hall in a version of Handel’s “Messiah” choreographed by her parents sealed her fate. “Hearing applause from 4,000 people was unreal,” she says. “It was my first time onstage and afterward you couldn’t get me off.”
In her early teens, Sturm added voice and acting classes to her training, performed in school musicals, and attended musical-theater summer programs. After high school, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. However she wasn’t happy with the lack of singing and dancing. She left the school after her first year, returned home, and performed in a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie while auditioning in New York. Five months later, she booked a part as a swing in the tour of Cats.
It was her first big break. “I covered six parts and was also assistant stage manager and assistant company manager,” she says. “I flipped between being onstage and being in the booth. I quickly learned discipline, responsibility, and how to multi-task.”
After Cats, Sturm performed in an Evita tour as the fiery tango dancer, and when she returned to New York, she earned her Equity card through regional productions, including Beauty and the Beast, Oklahoma!, and High School Musical. Five months after the last gig, Sturm joined The Addams Family.
Sturm, 23, says the job has helped her stretch artistically and professionally. As a swing, she performs every other week on the dance captain’s night off, and more as needed. She’s handled the show’s many pre-opening revisions, learning steps swing-style while sitting down, swapping numbers daily while trying out the show in Chicago, and experimenting with Trujillo during preproduction meetings back in New York.
On top of enjoying her Broadway debut, Sturm says she’s most grateful for “getting to be part of the creation. I adore the tango in the show; I helped develop it.” Of working with Trujillo in the studio, she adds, “I’ll try anything; it’s my job to take what he wants and make it work. It taught me I’m more versatile than I knew!”
Sturm looks forward to being in the show awhile, but one day she would like to create a featured role in a new show. She also has a dream role: another redhead, the vixen Lola in Damn Yankees.
Whatever happens, Sturm’s set on a long career dancing. “Dance is my therapy,” she says. “I can’t do without it.” Trujillo thinks she’ll never have to: “Sammy will have featured roles and more,” he says. “And she can always dance in my shows.”
Lauren Kay is an NYC dancer and writer.
Photo by Ronnie Nelson, Courtesy Sturm.