Taking cartoon panels from the page to the stage was a tricky thing for "The Addams Family."
For the musical-comedy coming to Broward Center April 9 through 21, it wasn't the whole bizarro-macabre thing that was the challenge for the show’s book writer Rick Elice and music composer Andrew Lippa.
It was honing that story, focusing it. It took them a couple of tries.
"The producer came to us and said he had the rights to 130 cartoons by Charles Addams and would we like to concoct a story," says Elice, who wrote the book with Marshall Brickman, from his Manhattan home. "At first it was more about the marriage of Gomez and Morticia ... who Morticia turns out to be and who she was descended from. And we thought it was hysterical. They [the producers] did not. We really thought we would get the ol' heave-ho. As a sort of last-ditch effort we pitched a very simple idea, which was what happens when this child and the apple of her father's eye, what happens when she grows up and falls in love for the first time."
Lippa, in Chicago for the out-of-town tryouts of his new musical "Big Fish," said that keeping that twisted tone in the stage production that Addams infused in the panels, half of which ran in The New Yorker magazine from 1938 until the cartoonist’s death in 1988.
"Marshall, Rick and I wanted to keep the upside down-ess of The Addams Family, that good is bad and bad is good," Lippa explains. "But you know, when you really look at those cartoons it's always something awful is about to happen, but it never does."
Previously Lippa, who's mother lives in Boca Raton, was best known for the musical "The Wild Party" and for his concert work with Kristin Chenoweth. In addition to polishing the musical "Big Fish," he is working on a commissioned piece for the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus about Harvey Milk where this June he will play the part of the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. Brickman and Elice won a Tony Award for the "Jersey Boys" book. Elice went on to adapt "Peter and the Starcatcher" for the stage and is now working on "Super Fly" with choreographer/director Bill T. Jones.
So with a wealth of experience, both men knew how rare it was to get the chance to revamp a show from its critically-savaged Broadway run (2010 to 2011 with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth) to the packed houses on the national road tours beginning in 2011.
Lippa got to rearrange some songs, putting them in new contexts and even added some new ones.
"It was a real re-think of the show," he says. "We were so lucky to have Stuart Oken this extraordinary producer who said to us, 'Can you make this better?' And I think we did. It played in Australia to huge audiences. It was a hit in Brazil. It’s opening in Sweden right now."
Elice sums up with, "The great Jerome Robbins is credited as saying – though it may be apocryphal – that you never finish as show, you just run out of time. The producers paid for five extra weeks of rehearsal and two and half weeks of tech and that hardly ever happens. It's a bit crazy because it came at a great expense, so we jumped at the chance ... we were able to do substantial rewrites in order to present more of the show we hoped to present from the get go."
If You Go
“The Addams Family”
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 7:30 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays
Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Tickets range between $39.50 to $79.50
Contact: 954-462-0222 or BrowardCenter.org