2013-02-14 / Arts & Entertainment News

Delicously macabre

Musical comedy ‘The Addams Family’ comes to the BB Mann

DAH-D DA-DA-DUM!

(Snap, snap!)

Dah-da-da-DUM!

(Snap, snap!)

Dah-da-da-DUM, dah-da-da-DUM, dahda da-DUM!

SNAP! SNAP!

America’s original Goth family is coming to Southwest Florida: ghoulish Morticia and debonair Gomez and their entire brooding, morbid clan, including Lurch, Cousin It and Uncle Fester. This is the family that revels so much in being unhappy that they make undertakers look like chirpy Doris Days.

“The Addams Family: A Musical Comedy” comes to the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall Feb. 19-24. (It also plays at Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for one performance on April 22.)

After previews in New Haven, Conn., the brand new national tour opened earlier this month in Rochester, N.Y., and will be on the road for 18 months.

“It’s so much fun,” says Jesse Sharp, who plays the dapper and courtly patriarch of the family, Gomez Addams. “People love the show and love the characters.”

Gomez, he says, is “the most positive character on earth. He loves everything. He’s so enthusiastic about the world and people. Outside of the obvious eccentricities, he’s a positive human being. I come at him from a point of exuberance and excitement.”

It’s a gift to play a character who’s already so well-known and loved, he says. “You walk on stage and they applaud for you. As an actor, it gives you the upper hand, right out of the gate.” It makes him want to do the show justice and make people laugh, he adds.

Mr. Sharp prepared for the role by working with a vocal coach and watching the TV episodes, which originally ran from 1964-66, and the two movies from the 1990s, “The Addams Family” and “Addams Family Values.”

But, he says, “I definitely want to make the character my own, have my own spin on it. I play silly, over-the-top characters anyway; it’s not that far out of my wheelhouse. I watched what John Astin did (in the TV shows), and I love Raul Julia in the movies. (I watched) just really for reference, to see how they handled the character.”

Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, “The Addams Family: A Musical Comedy” is based on the Charles Addams cartoons that originally ran in The New Yorker.

“It’s a good choice to base the musical on the cartoons,” Mr. Sharp says. “It’s fantastic to use the original source material rather than recycle something from film or TV.”

His co-star, KeLeen Snowgren, who plays Morticia, also prepared by watching the classic TV shows and the two Addams Family films. She was more familiar with the films and with the way Angelica Houston played Morticia.

“I always loved the role and her part,” Ms. Snowgren says. “Once the musical came around, I did so much research, watching YouTube videos … her demeanor, her way of speaking, the way she carries herself.”

But when she landed the role for this tour, she says, “I was quite surprised how much they did not want me to embody Angelica Houston. It was more about focusing on those one-line quips Charles Addams would write (in his cartoons.)”

Ms. Snowgren says she doesn’t think her character sees herself as being scary.

“Morticia is just motherly. She cares aabout her family and their well-being,” she eexplains. ue “She wants them to be ‘deliciously unhappy’ with their lives, and she does everything she can to make sure that happens. p

“She’s possibly intimidating; she’s the pparent who wears the pants in the relationship.”

Family dynamics

The storyline revolves around the family’s reaction to daughter Wednesday Addams falling in love with “a normal man from a normal Midwestern family.” Both sets of parents are going to meet for the first time, and Wednesday desperately wants hers to come across as normal too. (One critic described the show as “The Birdcage” meets “Halloween.”)

The musical’s been tweaked and rewritten since it first opened on Broadway in 2010. Composer Andrew Lippa wrote some new songs, and a subplot about a love affair with a giant squid has been thrown out.

“The plot has some different elements,” Mr. Sharp says. “(For the first time) Gomez is keeping a secret from Morticia. It drives the plot a little further. The audience gets on his side, because he’s stuck between his wife and his daughter, and they can see it’s going to be a tough road for him.”

According to Ms. Snowgren, the original plot focused on Wednesday Addams and her love affair. But when most people think of the Addams Family, they think of Morticia and Gomez, not Wednesday.

So the writers rewrote it to focus on the struggles, joys and burdens of raising a happy family, and adjusting to the changes that happen when the children grow up.

Mr. Sharp says the show is “a unique and new way of seeing this family, not necessarily something (audiences) have seen before … It’s musical comedy. It certainly has its fun and scary elements, but it’s more campy than actually scary.”

Ms. Snowgren loves that the musical has “all of the great characters — Cousin It, Thing, our quirky ancestors. It’s dark and mysterious and incredibly wonderful to watch.”

Mr. Sharp credits production supervisor Jerry Zaks for the success of the retool show. “He’s an incredible stage director,” he says about how the show has changed and evolved. (Mr. Zaks directed “House of Blue Leaves,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Sister Act” for Broadway, among others.)

Ms. Snowgren says everyone in the audience immediately begins snapping along with the familiar theme song when the show opens. The previews in Connecticut earned standing ovations, she adds.

The family musical has “the creepiness and kookiness of the dark, depressing Addams family,” Ms Snowgren says. “We don’t wear bright colors — that’s for people with no inner life or imagination. ‘We have to be unhappy, darling,’” she purrs in her Morticia voice. “It’s really quite funny how we twist everything to make it morbid and dark and dreary. But that’s our normal.”

At its core, however, the show is still about love, she says. “No matter how they view normal or abnormal, love conquers in the end.” ¦

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