When The Addams Family creative team sat down to discuss story ideas for the new musical, they made a decision to use the original Charles Addams‘ New Yorker cartoons as inspiration. But that didn’t mean setting aside everything people know about the famously macabre family from the iconic television series, Hollywood films and Scooby-Doo episodes.
“Much of the TV show and the films also take their inspiration from the original drawings, so going back to what the characters looked like and said to each other was a bit of a no-brainer,” explained composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa. “We wanted to back to the source, Charles Addams himself, as opposed to Charles Addams through other writers.”
The pre-Broadway tryout of The Addams Family musical, opening at the Oriental Theatre, stars Nathan Lane (The Producers, Guys and Dolls) as the charming Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth (A Chorus Line, Chicago) as the alluring Morticia. The talented supporting cast features stage veterans Terrance Mann (Lés Miserables, Beauty and the Beast), Carolee Carmello (Lestat, Parade), Kevin Chamberlin (Dirty Blonde, Seussical) and Jackie Hoffman (Xanadu, Hairspray) as well as up-and-coming stars Adam Riegler (Shrek The Musical), Wesley Taylor (Rock of Ages) and Krysta Rodriguez (In the Heights, Spring Awakening). The show will move to New York’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in March following this limited Chicago engagement which ends Jan. 10.
The musical takes a look at what happens when the obsessively morbid Wednesday, now an 18-year-old woman, starts to experience an utterly foreign and terrifying feeling — love. Morticia insists on having her daughter’s boyfriend Lucas Beineke and his normal Ohioan parents join the eccentric family for a dinner that will change the lives of both families. Add a touch of Addams ghoul to this classic plot and you’ve got a recipe for comedy, reminiscent of films like Meet the Fockers and You Can’t Take It With You.
Lippa said it was decided early on to explore what type of musical Uncle Fester would put on if he were going to tell the story of The Addams Family. The character took on a bit of vaudevillian persona which allows him to speak directly with the audience when the others cannot.
“Once we hooked into that idea I further went down that road of looking at each character and allowing the score to be a set of characterizations,” he said.
This includes using the music to explore Gomez’s Spanish ancestry and giving Wednesday a more contemporary score due to the rebellious nature of her story line. Lippa uses his background as an actor when he’s writing to make sure the music is something that will allow the actors to connect with their characters.
“Whenever I write I do think in terms of what the actor has to do to make sense out of it. I’m giving full thought to how to make it connected to the actual character in the play, so that it doesn’t feel arbitrary and [is] grounded in the character’s own reality,” he explained.
Lippa was working on the score for the world premiere musical Asphalt Beach here at Northwestern when Addams Family lead producer and former American Musical Theatre Project Artistic Director Stuart Oken asked him to join the project. He said his decision was easy once he heard that Tony Award winners Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) were writing the book with Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, founders of London’s acclaimed Improbable Theater, set to design and direct.
“I thought if those four gentlemen were signed on to do this then it was going to be something interesting and extraordinary and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.
Lippa originally intended to pursue a career in acting and majored in voice at the University of Michigan. He started composing music in college but hadn’t written lyrics before working on the Drama Desk award-winning production of The Wild Party.
“I was 31 years old and found a new way of expressing myself, which was through writing lyrics, as well as writing music. I was able to make my own decisions and control what I wrote and when I wrote it and that was an exciting discovery for me,” he said.
Since then he has produced the original cast recording of Bat Boy the musical, written the music for Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention, and worked as Kristin Chenoweth’s music director, conducting her concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House, among others. But nothing Lippa has done in the past compares to The Addams Family when it comes to production size and public awareness.
“It’s a big famous title written with the guys who wrote Jersey Boys, directed by these incredible artists from England and starting Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth,” Lippa explained. “It’s the largest, most high profile project I’ve done on pretty much every level, so that alone is an exciting component of making the show.”
The Addams Familyplays through Jan. 10 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. Tickets run $28 to $105 and can be purchased by visiting www.BroadwayinChicago.com or calling the Broadway In Chicago ticket line at (800) 775-2000.