The Ubiquitous Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo

By Robert Simonson
06 Apr 2010

Bebe Neuwirth in The Addams Family.
photo by Joan Marcus

The show's opening number, "When You're an Addams," has the family indulging in a series of classic party and wedding dances, including the Bunny Hop, the Twist and a line dance, all called out by patriarch Gomez Addams. "I went back and watched the TV show and they always broke out into these silly '60s and '50s dances like the Watusi and the Twist," explained Trujillo. "We found them amusing and unexpected. You don't want to take yourself too seriously at that moment," in the show.

(Having already immersed himself in the 1950s and '60s in Jersey Boys, All Shook Up, Memphis and Peggy Sue Got Married, a musical he worked on in London in 2001, Trujillo was already well-schooled in every dance craze to emerge in those decades.)

Later on, in the second act, Gomez and wife Morticia, execute a long and involved tango number. Again, Trujillo — who wants every dance to make practical and artistic sense within a show — uses the expression "it pays off" when describing it. "I totally believed in it, because it works to support the Gomez and Morticia relationship. I thought it was a romantic and passionate way of describing their relationship. I believed in that moment."

If a dance doesn't "pay off" Trujillo is more than willing to dispense with it and move on. "He's a real perfectionist," said Ashley. "He really does his home work. He walks in the door with a very complete idea of what it could be and he also sees very clearly what's in front of him. He's kind of ruthless about throwing away things that don't work, even if he thought of them."

Within the Addams tango is what Trujillo calls his "million-dollar step." Trujillo has one of these in every show he does. That's the name he gives to a trademark move that emerges in each project, and seems to speak for the work's personality. Trujillo would only say that the Addams "million-dollar stop" is called "the five-sixes." "We do it toward the end of the tango, just before the number finishes. Nathan and Bebe do it and then more and more people do it."

Trujillo was born in Cali, Colombia, and moved to Toronto with his family when he was 12. He took a bachelor's degree in science, of all things, from the University of Toronto, and didn't start his dancing career until he was 19 — a late age for a dancer. He won his first Broadway job as a replacement dancer in Jerome Robbins' Broadway in 1990. (He took a sabbatical from chiropractic school to take the gig.) Following Fosse in 1999, he made a conscious choice to leave performing behind him. "I made a decision before I did Fosse that that was going to be my last show," he said. "I came to terms with it, I loved it, I lived it fully every night, but I was O.K. to walk away from it."

That decision has led to surreal circumstances since then. He danced in the 1992 Broadway production of Guys and Dolls, and 17 years later he choreographed the 2009 Broadway revival of the same musical. And Jerry Zaks, his director in the '92 Guys and Dolls, is now his creative collaborator on The Addams Family. "Time flies when I get to choreograph a revival that I danced in," Trujillo said with a laugh.

Soon Trujillo will make the inevitable leap from choreographer to director-choreographer. "I'm working on two shows that I'm developing, so it's fairly premature to talk about them," said Trujillo. But he remains open to jobs where he won't run the show. "I'm happy to work with people like Jerry Zaks and Des McAnuff and Chris Ashley. I don't want to limit myself to what my contribution will be."