When Brooke Shields steps into the role of Morticia in Broadway’s The Addams Family June 28th, she’ll be bringing along more than a new personality to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, there will also be a few changes to the musical, including a new dance sequence. For the past two weeks, the show’s creative team has been working with Shields as she prepares to replace Bebe Neuwirth as the matriarch of the ghoulish family.
“It started off with the dance, a different tango,” Shields told me when I caught up with her before another day of rehearsals. “They’ve been coming to rehearsals and rewriting things and altering things… that was the hardest, because we were choreographing it new, so it has been a work in progress.” She said the intricate tango was changed to accommodate the physical differences between herself and the petite Neuwirth. “[The choreographer] was trying to tailor it to what feels comfortable on my body type,” joking, “with my being that much bigger than Bebe, we can make fun of that a bit.”
Shields has become somewhat synonymous with being a Broadway replacement, as all of her previous runs on the New York stage have been in roles that were already being played by other actresses. From the role of Ruth Sherwood in Wonderful Town to Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Roxie in Chicago and her first gig as Grease’s Betty Rizzo, Shields seems to find comfort in the process. “I would have never been on Broadway were it not for the opportunity to be a replacement,” she admits. “The beauty of it is being able to come into these extraordinary roles and have the show come together so much faster. It’s a bit of a crash course and a somewhat daunting and sometimes lonely process.”
This time around, thanks in part to an upcoming touring production of The Addams Family needing to be prepped, and having Neuwirth as somewhat of a mentor, Shields has found the past two weeks refreshing. “I got an email [from Neuwirth] last night and she gave me a pointer on the dress,” Shields said. “I’ve never replaced anybody that gave me any input. She said, ‘it’s not easy to navigate in this dress, the boots and the wig. It’s the hardest part of the show.’”
Beyond the costumes, another challenge surrounding the role of Morticia Addams is the character’s origin. “The most difficult part for me was finding that place between the cartoon itself and the theatrics, because there is a sense of monotone in the cartoons,” Shields said. She decided to go back and read all of the original Charles Addams drawings, from which the musical is based, but she realized the Hollywood adaptations couldn’t be ignored. “You have to bring a one dimensional cartoon character to life, because you are doing Broadway, and a lot of people are associating this show with the movies. So, I was trying to find a hybrid of that,” she said before joking that she’s put “a little jazz hands in every now and then.”
As the show’s creative team has been working to update the characterizations before taking The Addams Family on tour, Shields will also have the opportunity to flesh out Morticia’s relationship with her daughter, Wednesday Addams. “We didn’t even start rehearsing scene work until my second week, because pages were being rewritten for the tour,” she said. “They are little things that help the Wednesday and Morticia relationship, because she had a relationship with her father, but not really with her mother.”
Now that the choreography and dialogue has been worked out, Shields is finally ready to start rehearsing with her co-star, Roger Rees, who recently replaced Nathan Lane in the role of Gomez. “It’s been hard for him, too, because he just came into the company, and just got used to working with Bebe,” Shields said. “I told him, get ready, because when you lift me, it’s going to feel a lot different than Ms. Petite,” she laughed.
Once Shields gets herself situated in The Addams Family on Broadway, the creative team will next tackle launching the touring production, which kicks off in New Orleans September 15th before traveling the country throughout the next year.
I originally wrote this article for BroadwayDirect.com.