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

By Kenneth Jones
07 Oct 2011

Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester on tour.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

WHIMSY

One of the strengths of the original McDermott-Crouch production was its theatrical flights of fancy — its visual and character whimsy. Uncle Fester, with the aid of puppeteers masked in black, flies with the moon in a show-stopping (in a good way) sequence called "The Moon and Me."

"From the moment I saw it in Chicago, it was one of those 'How did they do that?' moments," Zaks said. "It goes right to your primitive love of magic — he's flying! I don't see any wires, and I purposely refuse to find out — my assistants did — how he did it. It wasn't until we got into the rehearsal room that I went, 'Wow.' And, it is magic. And, because it's so extraordinarily theatrical and consistent with this storyline, it exists as a delightful interlude. All great entertainment, I think, earns the right for an interlude, as long as it's not wildly off-subject. He [stated] his affection for the moon, and we know about it, and all of a sudden he shows up and sings a love song…"



The retained sequence got roars of approval on the opening night in The Big Easy.

So, there is room for whimsy? "Whimsical, it's gotta be," Zaks said. "It's not realistic. It's not naturalistic."

Oken added that the Addams ancestors (the singing and dancing ensemble, in ashy-white costumes) "have taken a big step forward in this." They aid Wednesday in her goals, and they help Morticia illustrate her "Secrets" manifesto. He said, "I remember in developing the show, nobody wanted to deal with the ancestors, and I said it over and over again, 'Please, the ancestors!' Jerry did the first step moving from Chicago to New York, but now I think it's gone one step further and I think it's more satisfying."

Cortney Wolfson as Wednesday on tour.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

THE ROAD THEY DIDN'T TAKE, THE ROAD AHEAD

Oken admitted that if ticket sales were stronger in New York, and if an extension beyond January 2012 had been possible, the new changes would have been implemented into the Broadway production. He said, "I think that we would have had to shut down for two or three days to tech. Let's say we knew exactly what had to be done: then I think they could've planned a tech to achieve that and we would have done it all in the rehearsal room while they were performing. I think there was a way to do it with missing two or three performances. We hoped we might make it, and even the actors in New York were up for doing it. Brooke wanted to do it. Roger wanted to do it. But, we couldn't work it out there."

Oken said that the Broadway production of The Addams Family is close to recouping its investment, but "I don't think we'll recoup while we're running. There is stock and amateur, there's four or five other productions, there's merchandise, there's so many things out there. Yes, it will recoup."

Oken and Zaks admitted that The Addams Family on tour is not yet frozen. New Orleans, Oken said, is "an opening, but we've still got more work to do."

The producers and creative team are looking to the Dec. 13-Jan. 1 Chicago engagement (returning to the show's birthplace) as the end point for revisions.

Oken said, "We're going to do a little more work and be finished by the end of the year." He added that they're speaking about this new process now in the hope that "people" — namely, audiences and critics — "will look at it fresh."

Pippa Pearthree as Grandma and Patrick D. Kennedy as Pugsley on tour.
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Oken explained, "We can't tell them what to think, and we don't want to be running out there and saying, 'We disavow that one and love this one…' We don't. We just want to be able to say the creative process is organic, there is no expiration date, stuff happened to this group, and this group is bold and noble and I have enormous respect for the fact that they stayed and cared and wanted to finish the project.

"I hope people will look at it and say, 'I'm not reviewing the New York show. I'm just going to look at this show and try to be honest about it,' the best they can."

Zaks said, "Andrew [Lippa] already has an assignment that involves changing the body of what is the 11-o'clock number. I'm going to go back to work in Schenectady and Buffalo...but by the time we get to Chicago, we should pretty much be what we are. We're very close. The way you can tell is that after the show when we all met backstage in the company manager's office [in New Orleans], no one had much to say, but no one wanted to leave, particularly. Everyone was there. Everyone was happy to see each other. It's a good thing. It suggests being 90-95 percent of the way there."

For more information about the national tour, visit theaddamsfamilymusical.com.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)