By Kenneth Jones
07 Oct 2011
The national tour of The Addams Family, the Broadway musical inspired by the macabre characters of cartoonist Charles Addams, launched Sept. 15-24 in New Orleans, a city known for its above-ground crypts and mossy, ancient cemeteries. It's now coming to light that what the producer and creative team unleashed on the haunted Louisiana city — and now in cities beyond — is not the current Broadway property, but a new, undead, refreshed, Frankenstein-monster of a musical comedy with a new central plot conflict, new or revised or reordered songs to replace old ones, fresh orchestrations and dance where necessary, and perhaps a little more sexual chemistry than audiences got in the critically dismissed 2010 Broadway version that first starred Bebe Neuwrith as Morticia and Nathan Lane as Gomez.
THE SQUID HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
"The squid is gone," lead producer Stuart Oken told Playbill.com in an interview in a New Orleans café the morning of Sept. 23, the official opening date there. Director Jerry Zaks, who had stepped in as "creative consultant" for the Broadway-bound show in late 2009, after the Chicago tryout, reshaping the work for the March 2010 Broadway opening, shared the café table. Zaks now has the touring credit "Entire Production Under the Supervision Of."
The squid, Zaks said with a laugh, "was a whimsical notion, and you had to really travel a distance to embrace it."
The squid was a way to complete the story of Mal and Alice Beineke, the parents of Lucas Beineke, a "normal" kid from Ohio who is in love with the goth-and-torture-friendly Addams daughter, Wednesday. The Beinekes' visit to the dark, horror-kissed Addams home is the main event of the original story cooked up by Jersey Boys librettists Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and expanded upon by composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party, jon & jen). The writers actively revised the show for its 2.0 touring version, which was greeted with a raucous ovation Sept. 23. The audience was a mix of visiting industry folk and locals lured by the marquee value of the iconic Addams characters.
Oken said, "I just want to say, when we were working on it in workshop form, in the imagination of what that might have been theatrically — with Terry Mann [as patriarch Mal Beineke] standing up not in squid pockmarks but just as a leading man and singing a big towering song that was kind of satiric about what happened — there was something 'Addams delightful' about it. But then when we saw it there and…had this freakin' squid on stage… it didn't work. We had this squid on stage, and, we couldn't redesign it! What were we going to do?"
"And," Zaks interjected, "we didn't have the inspired idea of what to replace it with. We knew, clearly, that their visit to the Addams household has resulted in chaos for them. The rules of their relationship, which has been undisturbed for years, got tossed on its head, and that's the way we chose to resolve it."
Zaks added that the placement of the "squid song" ultimately felt like an 11-o'clock number, which was wrong for the show — it's called The Addams Family, not The Beineke Family.
THE COMPANY WAY
"In the Arms (of a Squid)" was emblematic of issues that the creative team faced in the time between the Chicago run in late 2009 and the March 2010 Broadway opening. The clock was ticking. How fast could the team sharpen their storytelling before their opening-night deadline?
Zaks, a four-time Tony Award winner for his direction for Guys and Dolls, Lend Me a Tenor, The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation, was brought in to look at the production during it tryout in Chicago. "We had kind of a creative breakdown coming out of Chicago," Oken explained. "There was a controversy inside our company. There was a need of a change of leadership. When that happens, it's like a shockwave goes through the system, and what Jerry was able to do between Chicago and New York was come in and stabilize, and bring out the best of what we had working for ourselves with some additional changes — but not the kind of work that he was able to do when he was able to step back, and have time, and get the creative team to…reduce anxiety and go back into an authentic process."
Zaks and Oken said that the production's departments were not properly talking to each other under the guidance of original director Phelim McDermott, who is acclaimed for his work on the macabre, visually potent Shockheaded Peter, created with designer Julian Crouch, who was his directing/design partner on The Addams Family. (Oken hired them, and their shared title-page credit was Directed and Designed by Phelim McDermott & Julian Crouch.)
Oken said, "Nobody sets out to do anything other than really good work, and even with the original directors I hired, I hired them believing that their ambitions — married to Rick, Marshall and Andrew's theatrical savvy and experience — were going to take us somewhere special. And, we augured to be somewhere special. We just fell short and then the team wasn't cohesive enough and didn't have the level of leadership required to get it where it needed to go, and when you have a big, fat musical like ours coming toward Broadway…."
Zaks added, "Julian Crouch, who is half the first team, is very much a part of this [touring] production. He is still in, he is part of our team, he understood what came down and chose to be loyal to the production. I would say this: that Phelim's great strength was probably creating order out of chaos in rehearsal, which may be fine in a 200-seat theatre with actors that you know and trust and respect that have been through that process with you. When you are coming into it with people at this level — this is one of the most collaborative forms imaginable, there are 100 people every day that are looking for somebody to be in charge — and he just didn't have that mantle. I don't think that he is less of a director, I think he is a different kind of a director."
Zaks said that his first order of business starting in late 2009 was to get the departments in sync. Then it was time to address the storytelling.Continued...