DIVA TALK: Chatting with Addams Family's Carolee Carmello, Casting Ideas, Chenoweth's Promises

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Addams Family's Carolee Carmello, Casting Ideas, Chenoweth's Promises
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Carolee Carmello
Carolee Carmello

For the past few years, the gifted Carole Carmello has been belting out a slew of ABBA tunes, bringing new dimension to the role of Donna Sheridan in the international hit Mamma Mia! at Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre. Carmello, who is married to another Broadway favorite, Gregg Edelman, is now working similar magic in the role of the repressed and rhyming housewife Alice Bieneke, whose son Lucas (Wesley Taylor) falls in love with Wednesday Addams (Krysta Rodriguez). The big-voiced Carmello, who was Tony-nominated for her previous Broadway outings in Lestat and Parade, recently picked up an Outer Critics Circle nomination for her work in Addams Family, a role that allows the actress to display her comedic and vocal chops in the Act One show-stopper, "Waiting." Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with Carmello about her latest role; that brief interview follows:

Question: Congratulations on the Outer Critics nomination.
Carmello: Thank you very much.

Question: How did this role come about? When did you get involved with the musical?
Carmello: I auditioned for the show a little less than a year ago, I suppose. They were doing a reading last June of the new script, and I think that the audition might have been in May of last year, so just about a year ago. I didn't realize that I was auditioning for the production – I thought I was just auditioning for the reading, so I was a little taken aback when I got there and realized that it was for the actual Broadway production. [Laughs]. But I guess I did all right.

Question: What went into your decision to take the role, because it's a different type of role for you, in a way.
Carmello: Yeah, it is. I think that that was part of what swayed me towards it. You know, I had been doing Mamma Mia! for a few years, and I really wanted to be involved with a new show. I mean, I loved doing the job that I was doing, but I really wanted to expand and get involved with some new productions. I was auditioning, and when I realized that Nathan [Lane] and Bebe [Neuwirth] were involved and when I found out that Andrew Lippa was writing the music – I had worked with him many years ago on a show called john and jen, so I was a big fan of his – I thought that it would be fun to do some comedy because most people don't think of me that way, and it's nice to sort of stretch a little bit.

Question: Is it a fun role to play? It looks like you're having a good time up there.
Carmello: Yeah, we do have a good time. I really like the physical comedy that I get to do. It's a far cry from Parade or Scarlet Pimpernel or 1776, the kind of things where I usually play the devoted, emotional wife. I love those parts, too, but it's just a nice change to be able to throw your body around and get some laughs and [do] something lighthearted that people seem to really enjoy. Question: How much did your role change from out-of-town to Broadway?
Carmello: I don't think the role itself really changed – some of the material changed a little bit. I have a new scene in the second act, a little scene with Lurch which I love, and that didn't exist in the Chicago production. What I lost was this number that I used to sing with Bebe Neuwirth, and that was kind of sad. I mean, things always get cut when you're working on a new show, so you try not to get attached to things very much, but I did enjoy doing that. It was quite a thrill for me, as a non-dancer, to be doing, I wouldn't call it a dance number, but a little bit of movement with Bebe, because that's her strength. And so to be on stage with her and to be doing a sort of mock tango number, it was a lot of fun for me. I guess it was one of those things that they felt slowed the show down a little bit, so they cut it, but what are you gonna do? [Laughs.]

Question: When did Jerry Zaks get involved, and how did he help shape the production?
Carmello: Well, the first I knew of it was in the last couple of weeks we played Chicago, which was [the] beginning of January, when we were preparing to close the show there and move to New York. Jerry came in, and there was the big announcement to the company that Jerry was going to be ... creative consultant. He came around and talked to everybody a little bit at the end of the run in Chicago, but we didn't have any rehearsal with him, and we didn't really know exactly what his plans were for the show until we started rehearsal in February in New York. So that's really when [he] started.

Question: What was it like working with him?
Carmello: We had been working with Phelim [McDermott] and Julian [Crouch], who are still listed as directors on the show. They started the process years ago with the producers. Their styles are just so different, so it was interesting because we all had to kind of adjust. It's like being on a sports team and you're still playing basketball and you still have the same teammates, but your coach is different, and so everything is seen through a different eye. He has very strong opinions about comedy. He’s got a great sense of timing, and so he wanted to make sure that everything was landing the way it should be and that all of the jokes were getting their fair shot. And, he influenced a lot of the new rewrites that happened. There's a brand-new opening number, which I'm not involved in, but I know that that was a big change in the show. I think he just kind of got us all onto the same page and made sure that the show was funny.


Bebe Neuwirth with Carolee Carmello in The Addams Family
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How would you describe Alice?
Carmello: Alice Beineke is the mom of Wednesday's boyfriend, first of all. That's the reason that I'm in the story, because we come to the Addams house to have dinner and meet the family because my son is dating Wednesday. I guess I would describe her as a sort of kooky, kind of uptight suburban mom. She has a tendency to burst into rhyme, which is kind of a fun thing to play because it's very unpredictable, and it makes her sort of an odd duck. You don't come across that in everyday life, at least I don't. She bursts into rhyme and she's a little repressed, but she gets to let it all loose at the end of the first act when she drinks this potion, which is intended for someone else.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her?
Carmello: Oh, I suppose it would be that – that moment of sort of unleashing the inner darkness of her soul. Because up to that point in the show, she's been very lighthearted and full of smiles and full of bubbly energy, and then suddenly when she drinks this acrimonium – as they call it in the show – she's kind of overtaken by the dark side of her spirit, and so it allows me to kind of do a 180 degree turn and just become this whole other person. I think that's probably my favorite moment, and that's where I get to do most of my physical comedy and throw myself around. It's a lot of fun.

Question: The night I attended the audience went wild. Has that been the typical response?
Carmello: They're very nice at the end of the number. I mean, some nights are better than others. You know how audiences vary, but they usually seem to appreciate it, so that's nice. It's funny because, as you saw, I'm laying face down on the table, so I can't soak up the response like you might want to do at the end of a big number. But I lay there with my eyes closed and I certainly appreciate the applause. [Laughs.]

Question: Jackie Hoffman does ad-lib a bit, right, or is what she says pretty much set?
Carmello: It's pretty scripted now. I mean, she did a lot of ad-libbing when we were rehearsing and also in Chicago. She has less freedom now. . . I think that between Jerry and the producers, they really wanted to kind of nail down what was going to be said so that they wouldn't have any big surprises. I mean, she still has incredible impulses to ad-lib at every turn, and she's so brilliant at it that you almost want to let her.

Carolee Carmello
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: Was there anything that she said in Chicago where you almost lost your composure onstage?
Carmello: Oh, lots of times! Oh, my God. She's so brilliant, and even now, even though she doesn't really ad-lib lines, she still changes the way she says the lines that she has, and her tone and her delivery is so funny that you can often see the entire cast sitting at the table with their shoulders shaking, trying not to burst into laughter. But, yeah, there were so many times in rehearsal and in performance [where] I just had to turn my head or lower my chin so that the audience wouldn't see that I was laughing. I mean, she made a joke one night in Chicago about Tiger Woods when that whole scandal was breaking. It was the single biggest laugh I've ever heard in my entire life onstage. It was so enormous. It was like a tidal wave of laughter hit us on the stage, and when that happens you can't help but get swept up in it. And so all of us onstage were trying to control it, and it went on and on and on and on. It was really funny.

Question: What is it like getting to share the stage with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth? It's a really starry cast.
Carmello: It is a star-filled cast. There are so many talented people on that stage, and the great thing is that we all can bring so much to the show, and the challenge is that everybody is so good that you kind of don't know where to look sometimes. I think that was part of what the challenge was for Jerry Zaks, to kind of focus the show so that everybody could have their moments. But yeah, it's thrilling. I mean, Nathan is about as good at what he does as anybody in the world. I think that as far as musical comedy actors, he's really the top of the list. So it is exciting. I wish I had more moments onstage with him, but the ones I do I definitely cherish.

Question: Had you worked much with Terrence Mann before?
Carmello: No, never. We have a great time together. I'm really happy to be working with him finally. We had just met each other socially and at benefits and what not, but we had never worked together. We did Scarlet Pimpernel but at different times. We did Les Miz but at different times. So we never have been able to work together, and it's been great fun because he's so good, and he's also a great guy and he's a dad, and we both have a lot in common. It's been a real fun part of the experience to get to work with him.

Question: How old are your kids these days?
Carmello: My daughter's in high school! She is 14, my daughter Zoe, and my son, Ethan, is nine. He's in third grade.

Question: Would you want Zoe dating any of the Addams Family kids?
Carmello: [Laughs.] You know what, I think that all of these characters in the show are so interesting that I wouldn't mind if she dated any of them because I think that the greatest thing in life is to find someone who's fascinating, that you want to be around all the time. So if she finds someone as interesting as any of these characters, I'll be glad. Now going into show business is a different question. [Laughs.] I'd rather she doesn't do that, but I can't really control it. Question: Do you have any other projects in the works or are you just focusing on Addams Family at the moment?
Carmello: I'm focusing on that right now. My toe's [still] in the water with Kathie Lee Gifford and the show that she wrote called Saving Aimee that I did at the Signature Theatre two-and-a-half [or] three years ago. She wants to get it produced in New York, and so we still are working on that. I'm going to be recording a new song that she wrote on Monday, so that's still in the works and it hopefully will get done at some point. I often think about doing a one-woman show. I've been wanting to do that for a couple of years. I have ideas for it, but I haven't really started to put it together or get writers to work with or anything like that, so that's a little far off down the road.

Question: Would that be biographical or telling a different story?
Carmello: I don't really want to do an autobiographical thing. I'd rather have a character, either an historical character or a fictional character, that I can tell a story through. But that's part of the problem I have to figure out what that story's gonna be. I don't want to just throw a bunch of songs together and call it a show. I want it to be something special. I hope to do that some day, but right now it's a little bit of a pipe dream, and I'm still kind of jotting down ideas when they come to me.

Question: Thank you for taking the time to talk, and I'm sure I'll be speaking with you on Tuesday.
Carmello: Oh, well, that's nice of you to hope! [Laughs.] I tell you, I was so shocked by the Outer Critics nomination that anything else that happens will be gravy because this has been such a nice surprise.

[The Addams Family plays the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street. For tickets call (877) 250-2929 or visit Ticketmaster.com.]

While putting together last week's column about those singing sisters, Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway, I started thinking how great it would be if they ever got to take over the lead roles in Mamma Mia! That prompted other casting wishes, which I share here (if you've got your own, email them to me): Bernadette Peters as Sally and Betty Buckley as Phyllis in a revival of Follies; Donna Murphy in Mame (did anyone leave the Encores! Anyone Can Whistle and not have that casting idea?); Ellen Greene in Dear World or Hello, Dolly!; Donna McKechnie as Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliot; Patti LuPone in Call Me Madam; and Florence Lacey in Sunset Boulevard. And, thankfully, that last one is coming true Dec. 7, 2010-Feb. 13, 2011, at the Signature Theatre Company in Arlington, VA!

Recently Seen. . . I was moved several times by Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth, who recently returned to the New York stage in the first Broadway revival of Promises, Promises, playing Fran Kubelik, the role created in the original NYC production by Jill O'Hara and later in London by Tony winner Betty Buckley. The role is a departure for the multi-talented Chenoweth, who, heretofore, has scored in parts that utilized her tremendous comedic gifts. (I've yet to see a Glinda who gets even half the laughs that Chenoweth did in the musical phenomenon Wicked, and no one possesses a more beautiful soprano than the one she displayed in that international hit.) Getting back to the Promises she currently fulfills at the Broadway Theatre: Chenoweth's new role allows the actress to explore her dramatic potential as well as the chance to wrap her powerful, rangy voice around a host of Burt Bacharach-Hal David gems. In fact, it was her duet with co-star and Broadway newbie Sean Hayes — who is also delivering a wonderful performance — on "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" that moved this diva lover immensely. Her rendition was simple, honest and, ultimately, touching. I was also surprisingly moved by Chenoweth's take on the pop hit "Say a Little Prayer" — her tone was so pure and the delivery so enjoyable — and she also scores with the more dramatic "A House Is Not a Home" and "Knowing When to Leave." That said, I have to admit I was a bit dismayed that some critics thought the "Pushing Daisies" Emmy winner may have been miscast in the role, but I think that may have more to do with their own perceptions of Chenoweth rather than her talent. What we've come to expect is non-stop laughter from the Charlie Brown Tony winner, but that is not what this role requires. Although she still earns plenty of laughs, it would have been inappropriate to add shtick to the part, and I applaud the actress for resisting what must have been a strong temptation, considering the comedic pros around her who bring the audience to heightened states of laughter. I think had Chenoweth been an unknown, reviewers would have asked, "Who is this beautiful woman with the gorgeous voice who handles comedic moments as adeptly as dramatic ones?" rather than questioning her appropriateness for the role. Personally, I am thrilled that Chenoweth has given herself a chance to grow as an actress: I'm much more interested in seeing an actor challenge herself than repeat the same performance each time. Don't get me wrong — I can watch reruns of old sitcoms again and again — but onstage I like to see something new. So, thanks Ms. Chenoweth for spreading your wings. And, I can't wait for the cast recording!

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Terrence Mann, Wesley Taylor, Carolee Carmello and Nathan Lane in <i>The Addams Family.</i>
Terrence Mann, Wesley Taylor, Carolee Carmello and Nathan Lane in The Addams Family. Photo by Joan Marcus
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