By Fabrizio O. Almeida
Sergio Trujillo has a talent for continuing a conversation exactly at the point where he left off, something that serves the choreographer well during an extended interview at the Argo Tea near the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre. It’s where his latest project, the highly anticipated musical version of “The Addams Family,” is in previews for a December 9 world premiere.
It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and he’s in the middle of relating how Debbie Allen (of “Fame” fame) became his sponsor for his Green Card in the early nineties—Trujillo is Canadian by nationality and Colombian by birth—when he leaves briefly to retrieve a tomato-goat-cheese quiche and nonfat latte. He is describing his collaboration with “Addams Family’”s innovative co-directors/designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (“amazing but a new way of working for me”) when he answers his iPhone to clarify a note to an assistant. There is the time Trujillo has to excuse himself for twenty minutes in order to run back to the Oriental to give notes to the cast. Later, at the brand-new Puma flagship store across from the theater (“I’ve been dying to check this place out,” he says), he begins telling me how he had been mugged two weeks earlier on State Street following a late-night production meeting, then stops to admire a pair of black Pumas. “I love these,” he says.
To witness Trujillo squeeze an in-depth interview, lunch, a notes session and window shopping on Black Friday into ninety minutes is to receive a master class in the art of multitasking. But it makes sense given how busy he’s been. “This is probably the best year I’ve had choreographically,” he says modestly. “It started with ‘Guys and Dolls’ [the Broadway revival], then I did ‘West Side Story’ [for Canada’s Stratford Festival], then ‘Next to Normal’ [Off-Broadway, since transferred to Broadway], then I did ‘Tarzan’ [in Germany], then ‘Memphis’ [also on Broadway] and now ‘Addams Family.’” And if you count the blockbuster “Jersey Boys,” which Trujillo also choreographed, you have to include productions in New York, London, Chicago, Australia, Las Vegas, Toronto and on tour. Should “Jersey Boys,” “Normal” and “Memphis” run through April of next year in New York, by which time “The Addams Family” will open, Trujillo will have four shows running simultaneously on Broadway, a huge achievement. How does he do it?
“Sergio was always extremely disciplined, and that pays off when you’re doing three projects at once,” comments Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Rob Ashford, who roomed with Trujillo on the road when the pair toured as performers with “Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Musical” in the mid-nineties. Ashford is on the phone from New York, where he’s in the middle of casting his upcoming Broadway revival of “Promises, Promises” starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth. “Sergio flew back from Australia to put together the opening number for the Tonys this past year with me, and he’s on conference call from Melbourne talking to his dance captain in New York on how to do an initial pass at the material until he arrives. He cares, he’s disciplined, and that’s how he’s able to do it.”
In person, the 5’8” Trujillo, who speaks softly and with the faintest hint of a Latin accent, comes across as impeccably well-mannered and erudite. Sometimes he sounds like a scholar (Learning Jerome Robbins’ choreographic vocabulary for his 1989 Broadway debut was “…like learning great Shakespeare”), sometimes Byronic (“Dance is a selfless art form where you give and give, and sometimes it gives nothing back. You have to love it like you love your first lover”). He is humble about his professional beginnings (“I came into dance so late that I was always thinking I had to catch up.”), but self-aware and quick to calibrate any response that could make him sound hubristic (“I speak this way because I’m being selfish about my art form. I’m sure people feel this way about building a house or baking a cupcake”). But it’s when Trujillo pinpoints the moment he could no longer dance another choreographer’s steps that he is at his most candid. “I knew that ‘Fosse’ was going to be my last show. What started to happen was that I began feeling restricted, bound and suffocated by somebody else’s work. I didn’t get to express myself, and I needed to do something about it.” He’s referring to the 1999 dance-compilation show featuring the work of the late Bob Fosse. In it, Trujillo famously danced a melancholic soft-shoe to the song “Mr. Bojangles” while another dancer—a reflection of his character’s youthful self—majestically danced in the background. “The whole time I was doing ‘Fosse’ I was mourning it. I danced ‘Bojangles’ and every night, the only way I could get ready for that number was to see myself thirty-to-forty years from now. How would I look back on my career? What would I think? And how would I feel?”
Fulfilled but exhausted, it would seem, if Trujillo were to look back one day to 2009. “This year has been really excruciating, this year has been really amazing. I’m still as ambitious as I ever was, but I’ve realized that I may need to pull back the reigns.” Not, however, until opening “The Addams Family” and unveiling what is reportedly a beautiful tango between stars Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane (“It gets some of the biggest applause of the evening,” extols Trujillo), a dance section Trujillo calls Cajones, which is Spanish for wooden boxes. (“It’s a great coffin dance for Bebe,” he says.) Plus another sequence he has named Zapatones, a Spanish colloquialism I will translate loosely as “shoe stomping.” Whatever that is.
Regardless, there is no stopping the artistic stomping that looks to be moving Trujillo closer and closer to next year’s Tony Award for Best Choreographer.
“The Addams Family” is now in previews at The Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, for a December 9 world premiere. BroadwayinChicago.com for information and tickets.