By Harry Haun
26 Jun 2011
With the brisk tap of a black fingernail, the new Morticia materializes on Brooke Shields' iPhone. "There she is," the actress beams, passing around the image of her latest Broadway look — the gloomily glamorous mom of The Addams Family. "Yesterday was my first day in the costume. I even left the black fingernails on."
And she's contracted to keep them on till at least Halloween — possibly beyond — as she seductively slinks and slithers about the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in her requisite tight black gown with the plunging neckline. On June 28, Shields begins her turn as the gallows-humored homemaker of Charles Addams' ghoulish cartoons (here set to snappy words and music by Andrew Lippa).
Otherwise, it's a snug Family fit for Shields. "I grew up with 'The Addams Family' on TV," she says. "Morticia is such an iconic role.... They all are. That's the beauty about doing these parts. You put those wigs and costumes on, and you feel like a little kid. My kids love playing dress-up, as do I — obviously — only I've got experts helping me, so it's not just Halloween. It's the best costume party ever!"
|photo by Matt Hoyle|
Her past Broadway lives have included Rydell High's resident bad girl (Grease in 1994), a Berlin chanteuse (Cabaret in 2001), a man-killing celebrity (Chicago in 2005) and the brains half of a two-sister act new to New York (Wonderful Town in 2004). She replaced so well in the latter there was Tony talk of creating a Best Replacement category.
"Wonderful Town — that's my favorite. I think every now and then — or maybe it's just once in a lifetime, if you're lucky — you get a role that is just suited for you."
Her second favorite? "Cabaret, probably. It was over 9/11 — a very intense experience, the hardest thing I'd ever done — an emotionally draining, physically daunting performance. It isn't about having fun. In Wonderful Town, I had fun. It's hard to have fun in Cabaret, but I found the joy of being an actress in it. Wonderful Town is about being a performer, with the acting peppered through, but basically, from start to finish, Cabaret is an acting experience."
Last summer, Broadway's "Replacement Queen" finally took a leap of faith — called Leap of Faith — and originated a role bound for Broadway: the mother who is the love interest for a religious conman (Raúl Esparza) in a new Alan Menken–Glenn Slater musical that lifted off, rather unsteadily, in Los Angeles. (The writers are revising and refining the script and score at the moment.)
"I was so intent on [originating a role] for the longest [time], but after that experience, I'm acutely aware now it has to be perfect for me to go out on that limb," she says. "If you replace, you have nothing to lose. It doesn't rest on you. They're just hoping you can keep it open. With a new show, you must be clear and know what you're getting into. I was a bit naïve about that. I'm able to keep coming back to Broadway because I do all of it well enough — but it's everything. If you take out one of those things and just compare me to the best in that field — whether it's dancing or singing or acting — I'm not going to win that battle. Take away two out of the three and leave me just singing in the spotlight, I'm going to lose. The role [in Leap of Faith] had virtually no dancing, no humor. I'm proud of what I did...but I think what they wanted was somebody above the title with Raúl. The show is all him, and he's so extraordinary in it, but what he needs around him is not just someone to get them in the seats. I felt fenced [in] through the whole thing, but I learned it's better to have learned that out of town."
She got her game up by making her cabaret debut at the famous nightclub Feinstein's at Loews Regency with a musical mini-biography she wrote herself.
"My director, Mark Waldrop, was going to write it, but as I started talking with him, he basically said, 'It's so much better in your own words because of your cadence and the way you story-tell. It's your story and you should do that.'"
It also demonstrated she could command a New York stage with original material.
"I'm always on the lookout. Maybe a straight play is the next thing that I should do after this. It might make sense to take a little bit of a breather from musicals. I sorta agreed to do The Addams Family because I wanted to come back to Broadway to experience what I know and love about it. I needed to go back into something where I knew that hard work can be directly proportionate to my enjoying it."