By Robert Simonson
08 Dec 2009
Who could be so creepy and kooky that they'd mingle well with Burrs and Queenie and the rest of the characters in The Wild Party? Why, the Addams Family, of course — Gomez and Morticia and Uncle Fester and the gang. The new musical is the latest link in a cultural chain that began with Charles Addams' original New Yorker cartoons, continued with the 1960s television sitcom, and was resurrected with the 1991 movie "The Addams Family" and its 1993 sequel. The production has a book by Tony Award-nominated Jersey Boys collaborators Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, an ideal cast headed by Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth and is currently trying out in Chicago. When it gets to New York in March 2010, it will mark the Broadway debut of a full Lippa score. (The songwriter previously contributed songs to the 1999 revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.) Lippa talked to Playbill.com from Chicago, just days before the new show opened in that town.
Playbill.com: So how did this choice assignment come your way?
Andrew Lippa: In 2006 I was working at Northwestern University on the American Theatre Project, and Stuart Oken, who had founded that project, was the reason I was there, because he had a show I could do. As we were working on the show, Stuart said, "I want to take you to lunch." So we went to lunch. He said, "How do you feel about writing music and lyrics for the Addams Family musical?" I was really intrigued. I thought it was a great idea. I asked who was working on it and he said [director-designers] Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, and Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. And I said, "Sign me up."
Playbill.com: You make it sound so easy.
AL: It actually was. It was very weird. I've had that twice in my life. Tom Schumacher did the same thing after I had pitched him an idea; about six months later he said, "We want you to write it." And I was like, "What?!" Once or twice in a lifetime you get that.
Playbill.com: I guess it doesn't always have to be hard. So how do you write music for characters who are "creepy and kooky"? Did you have to employ a whole new lyrical vocabulary?
AL: (Laughs) Writing the lyrics has been a great joy, because these characters get to say things that other people don't get to say. There are mentions of certain ailments and certain personality defects, and yet you have to be careful. Ultimately, you don't want to offend anyone. During development, we all probably crossed a line or two trying to sort out that really, really fine Charles Addams line between funny and not funny. That's been a real challenge. Musically, we're writing a musical about a family. We underscored the word family in the Addams Family. And this family is multi-generational. I decided the score was going to represent that notion. The score's very character-based, and each of the characters sings in [his or her] own language. Gomez is represented by Flamenco-style Spanish music; and Wednesday is represented by a certain amount of contemporary pop music; and Uncle Fester is old vaudevillian in our show, and he's sort of the host of our evening, so he speaks in a vaudeville presentation style.
AL: He doesn't narrate the evening, but he does have a privileged relationship with the audience, in that he can speak to them. The others can not do that.
Playbill.com: Were you a fan of the Addams Family before this?
AL: Sure. My familiarity with them was like most people's. When we do certain Addamsy things in the show, every single person in the audience is familiar with those things. So, the TV show and the movies after that had a significant cultural dominance. I grew up watching the reruns of those shows after school; they were on TV when I was a kid in the '70s. I had an awareness of the Addams drawing, but I had never seen them in a collection.
Playbill.com: The question that seemed to obsess everyone when the show was announced was whether you were going to use the classic theme song from the television show, the one with the snaps. Are you?
AL: We have to leave some things to the surprise of our audience.
Playbill.com: So you won't say, then? Did you know early on about the possible participation of Lane and Neuwirth?
AL: Once I started writing, we decided we were going to do in May of 2008 a table read. And I would sing however many songs I had at that point. The suggestion of Nathan and Bebe emerged very quickly. People asked, "What's your dream cast?" Marshall Brickman was friends with Nathan, and Rick Elice was friends with Bebe, and they called them, and they both did the table read.
Playbill.com: Did that influence the way you wrote songs after that, thinking of who would be singing them?
AL: Oh, unquestionably. I wrote the songs keeping in mind who these characters were; and keeping in mind the hope for a long run that would run beyond Nathan and Bebe's involvement, at whatever point they chose to leave the show; and wanting to be true to these particular actors' strengths.