A musical about "The Addams Family," by "Jersey Boys" writers Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman and starring Nathan Lane -- how could it miss? It didn't, with audiences, but did with some critics. And then something very unusual happened. When the show transferred from Broadway to a national tour, the producers bestowed a gift on the creators: Time to rework as needed.
Before you could hum da-da-da dum and snap your fingers twice, they were on it.
Writer Elice and tour star Douglas Sills gave different percentages of how much has changed from the Broadway show, but both agreed the key was focusing the musical on the relationship between Gomez and Morticia Addams, the beloved ghoulish couple created by cartoonist Charles Addams and re-created in the 1960s TV series.
In the revised version, Gomez ends up keeping Wednesday's impending marriage a secret from Morticia, putting their marriage -- and perhaps his life -- in jeopardy. Because, as Mr. Elice said, "He has the dilemma, 'My wife can do really, really bad things when she finds out someone is keeping a secret from her. But look at my kid's face, what am I supposed to do?' "
Several songs have been replaced and scenes have been changed to shift the focus. "The daughter's situation creates a wedge. So it becomes scenes from a marriage instead of scenes from parenting," Mr. Elice said. "The characters, Gomez and Morticia, they are on opposite sides. It almost doesn't matter what the secret is about, we all know secrets fester, you should pardon the expression," he said.
The family-friendly nature of the show and the very big personality of Mr. Lane drove audiences to Broadway. Mr. Sills, who was in rehearsal to re-create the role of Gomez with the creators' changes, drives the national tour.
"I would think that my characterization is probably pretty different," said Mr. Sills, the Tony and Drama Desk nominee for "The Scarlet Pimpernel," who describes Mr. Lane as a theatrical god. "I think the nice thing about Nathan is he wraps a show around him like Saran Wrap, and I think I've done the same thing. Because the contours of our personalities are so different, you're going to get a very different light shining through."
Audiences have expectations of a diabolical mix of gallows humor and family values when it comes to the Addamses -- eternal lovebirds Gomez and Morticia, their children Wednesday and Pugsley, and Grandma and Uncle Fester, with Lurch, the butler, and handy Thing important members of the clan.
Mr. Sills had knowledge of the characters' histories, including the movies starring Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston, but he used only the cartoons for inspiration as he went into Gomez boot camp for the national tour.
"I wasn't bothered by the iconic status of the character or the prior incarnations, as talented as they were," he said. "I think I found two surprises. The first has been how deeply embedded the character has been in the American psyche. I'm shocked to find how many people feel passionately about Gomez and 'The Addams Family.' It starts from the first strains of sound you hear in our production [he sings 'da-da-da dum,' and snaps his fingers]. It's a key; it unlocks their hearts. So when I come through the curtains, I've already found a willing and eager audience. The second thing I found was how elastic the character is. It's receptive and able to accommodate two such differently dynamic interpretations as Nathan's and mine."
While Mr. Sills credits cartoon creator Charles Addams and the musical's creative team, including composer Andrew Lippa, with helping him bring Gomez to life, Mr. Elice acknowledges that the show got it wrong when it went to Broadway.
To get it right, producer Stuart Oken allowed a major overhaul for the tour and brought in Tony-winning director and noted show doctor Jerry Zaks.
"There were no half measures," Mr. Elice said of the re-do. "Things happen very, very quickly, and it's big, because it's 'The Addams Family.' It required new scenes and the writing of new numbers. There are four songs you never saw on Broadway, which is a huge thing."
Mr. Elice, a four-time Tony nominee, is confident with the tour's marquee star, Mr. Sills, who recently has extended his stay for four months.
"We're thrilled, because he's spectacular in the role," the writer said.
While in Pittsburgh, Mr. Sills will be returning to his career roots. In 1982, he got his start as an ensemble member of Pittsburgh CLO's "Brigadoon" and returned in 1995 in "The Secret Garden." He also hopes to visit with friends and fellow actors Nike Doukas and Leo Marks, who are here for Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's Chekhov Celebration.
The actor decided to stay with the tour not only because he's grown comfortable in Gomez's skin but because of a strong bond with the crew and cast, including his Morticia, Broadway veteran Sara Gettelfinger, and their onstage children, Cortney Wolfson and Patrick D. Kennedy.
The family-friendly show features effects through puppeteering, whimsy and Addams-style torture, sass without a lot of crass and a sprinkle of sweetness.
"There's a wonderful scene I get to play with my daughter," Mr. Sills said of Ms. Wolfson's Wednesday, "that's very tender and heartfelt, and that feels fantastic to have that outlet. On the other hand, there's a wonderful scene where the two disparate families come together and you see this collision of opposites. So, it varies, but I've been enjoying the scene with my daughter lately because it's unique in the show."
Audiences in cities from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., have come in three types, he said: Loud and raucous from beginning to end; the slow burn ("we get them over the course of an hour"); and those that are quieter throughout, "and then during the end, they are just crazy, like where was this audience?"
While acknowledging that the show has suffered some critical pans in New York and elsewhere, audiences have been receptive wherever the musical has hung its ghostly hat.
"For the national tour of 'The Addams Family' that will be playing at the Benedum, what we did was clarify what we really wanted the audience to see. We don't want them sad or confused or bored," he said. "We want them to come and have a good time and laugh themselves silly."
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.