Singing New Tunes, The Addams Family Gets Major Makeover for National Tour

By Kenneth Jones
07 Oct 2011

Co-writer Marshall Brickman
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN


"This opportunity is just such a blessing," Zaks said. "We were able, after a pretty healthy run in New York, to sit back and say, 'Alright. Come on. What is not happening? What needs to happen? How do we make it happen?' And, by then, the team had achieved a real rapport — a way of working. Everyone understood certainly what I expected and what was absolutely forbidden. That's very useful for a team because there's clarity."

"We're finishing our show," Oken said. "I think that what we did between Broadway and New Orleans is the equivalent to what our show might have done between Chicago and New York had it been healthy and functioning on all cylinders. This is what artists do to finish their show. And, if you're lucky, you do it before you get to Broadway, but we weren't lucky enough for that."

The Addams Family brand name (remember the TV show theme songs, and the films?) would seem to be catnip for road audiences who might not have read 2010 New York reviews. A cynic might look at regional audiences as somehow less discerning than New York's core audience. So, the cynical questions might be, why go to all the trouble to keep working on the show? Why make it better?

"Let me answer that," Zaks said. "Do you ever follow thoroughbred racehorses? I do. The great racehorses, even when they break down in the middle of the race, they keep running, they just don't know how to stop. I think it's not a bad analogy. We — meaning myself, Stuart and the creative team — once we had that meeting well into the run where we felt, 'Wow. We're okay,' and there was this calm and pride, the next step was, 'Okay, are we done? Because I'm not done…'

"One of the happiest moments that I had on this was when I realized that Marshall and Rick and Andrew were ready to grab the bit and go. So, there's no rational logical reason. It's just about the frustration that it can be better."

Oken said, "It simply isn't over. Only Broadway was over. The road was not over. The rest of the world was not over. Publishing is not over. This is a work that will live on and it's the artists' work. They want their name on something that they're most proud of."

As Oken suggests, one factor in continuing to sharpen the show is a business concern: A better show might prompt more positive reviews, boosting the property's value in international markets like Sao Paulo, Brazil and Sydney, Australia, to say nothing of the future stock and amateur licensing life of the work. (There are also currently conversations about a London run. There's a recent precedent for a post-New York rewrite of a Broadway show — Shrek the Musical in London includes new material.)

Oken explained, "Our business model was to try to give birth to something that could have a longer life. You can't be in the big musical business today if you don't at least have your sights set on a show that travels and exists in more markets than Broadway, so we weren't done."

Douglas Sills and Sara Gettelfinger on the Addams Family tour.
photo by Jeremy Daniel


In the many post-Broadway conversations about making The Addams Family better, someone brought up the fact that there was no conflict between heads of household Morticia and Gomez Addams. Zaks said, "There was none. Truly, no. They acted as a team from beginning to end."

Oken added, "It also wasn't unintentional. It was the writers fearing that the contract between the audience and Gomez and Morticia required that couple to not have conflict between them. It's not like we didn't examine it."

On Broadway, the plot's conflict was the meeting of the "normal" Beinekes and the abnormal Addamses, who, in theory, would bond over the union of their children, Lucas and Wednesday, who had fallen in love.

When tour details were announced in recent months, the staff noticed that the plot description was different than the synopsis for the Broadway production. After several requests, Zaks and Oken agreed to sit down for this interview.

The new touring-show plot has Morticia and Gomez's relationship tested when Gomez (played by Tony nominee Douglas Sills) promises to keep Wednesday's secret that she intends to marry Lucas. She doesn't want mama Morticia (played by Sara Gettelfinger) messing it up. The foundation of the Addams marriage, we learn in a new song called "Secrets," is that there are absolutely no secrets between this husband and wife. Thus, Gomez is pulled in several directions (illustrated in a new song called "Trapped").

Zaks explained, "The cartoons, the other forms of the material, all suggest that they have been happy forever and a day and will continue as Morticia and Gomez. So, then, why is this night different from all others? Well, because tonight there is a wedge driven into the heart of that relationship."

Gomez also now has a solo in Act Two called "Not Today" that feeds into revised book material that underlines the show's central optimistic idea — "Let's Live Before We Die." The mix of "Let's Live" and the parental pas de deux, "Tango de Amor," creates an 11-o'clock climax for the main characters, and erases the memory of that squid song sung by a supporting character.

For the record, the songs "Where Did We Go Wrong?," the Addams parents' rumination on Wednesday's choice of a boyfriend, and Gomez's ode "Morticia," have been cut from the score. Those songs previously stopped the show, but not in a good way — they stopped the action. What The Addams Family now has is serious momentum.

Zaks said, "It's my job to make sure that the audience falls in love with them, so that when the shit hits the fan, if you will, we care about them, and when they overcome it and resolve it and restore their relationship to what it was, we are profoundly happy. To me, that's a story."

Oken said, "In New York…closest we got to [conflict and stakes] was Morticia being made to feel old."

Zaks said, "There was such an emphasis or concern about making it 'Addams-y' on the stage, and there's nothing wrong with that, but let's find that thing that allows the audience to relate to them as human beings — as adults."