'Addams Family' takes revamped Broadway production on tour

'Addams Family' for App crop.

"Addams Family" for App crop.

"Bah-dee-duh-dump. Snap, snap."

For generations, Americans have had a special love for the creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky and altogether ooky Addams Family.

Starting out as the occasional subject of The New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams, the eccentric clan of goth misfits eventually became the subject of a live action sitcom in the mid-1960s, two animated cartoon series (in the '70s and '90s) and a trio of films from 1991 to 1998.

But the irrepressible Addamses finally met their most judgmental neighbors in 2010, in New York City.

It's no secret that when the stage musical of "The Addams Family" went to Broadway, it stepped into a dungeon full of theater critics whose torture devices were razor-sharp pens full of poisonous ink.

Tony-winning director Jerry Zaks, who had been brought on as the production supervisor to get the show Broadway-ready, remembered the fallout.

"The reviews were really bad," he said. "It felt like a punch in the stomach. We all felt that the tone of contempt was an overreaction. You have to have a pretty thick skin in this business, but after we had a few months to step away and take a second look at it, we asked ourselves if it could be better. It was a matter of pride."

The national tour of the musical, which opens Tuesday at the Orpheum, is partly what happens when enough critics pile on a show that would, just from the title alone, still be extremely popular with audiences.

"The whole spine of the story needed to be improved," Zaks said. "I call this a love story, and any good love story needs a major problem to be overcome. (Composer and lyricist) Andrew Lippa wrote three new songs, and we discarded three others. They were good songs, but they weren't the best songs."

In the musical, the ghoulish Wednesday Addams invites her new boyfriend, Lucas, and his family over to meet her parents. The fact that Lucas is "normal," not at all eccentric, doesn't sit well with Morticia and Gomez, who worry they've been bad parents.

At the dinner, tensions rise when the normal and "abnormal" families meet and secrets are revealed that threaten to tear everyone apart.

Zaks says people can relate to the Addamses, despite their oddities.

"There's a famous cartoon by Charles Addams where the family is on the roof of their house about to pour what looks like a cauldron of boiling liquid on some Christmas carolers," Zaks said. "They don't do it, but the impulse is there, you know? If you're in New York and some guy pulls up to a red light in an SUV and blocks the crosswalk and his stereo is blaring, you just want to detonate that car. We all have that impulse. These are characters for whom light is dark and dark is light."

Bad reviews didn't stop "The Addams Family" musical from selling tickets, thanks in part to marquee actors Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuworth as Gomez and Morticia.

The retooled tour stars veteran Broadway actor Douglas Sills, who had worked with Zaks on the 2003 Broadway revival of "Little Shop of Horrors."

Sills was wary, at first, of taking on the role of Gomez, so identified with actors such as John Astin in the series and Raul Julia in the movies.

"My advisers asked me, 'Why would you do it? It's a no-win situation. People are going to compare you to Nathan Lane. Who do you think you are?'"

But Sills was enticed by the idea of being part of an entirely reworked production.

"When somebody says they're going to change something from the ground up, you want to be a part of that," Sills said. "This show was fresh from the start. There wasn't a shadow of what came before hanging over us."

He says he admires the Addams family for their ability to love who they are.

"Everybody grows up feeling like an outcast in some way," Sills said. "The Addamses are very content in their differences. Gomez is such a wonderful role because he's a man full of joy and passion because he's found this gorgeous woman who is just as original as he is."

'The Addams Family'

Performances at 7:30 Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. April 27, 2 and 8 p.m. April 28 and 1:30 and 7 p.m. April 29 at the Orpheum, 203 S. Main. Tickets are $15-$95. Call (901) 525-3000.

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