(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reverend’s Interview: Lurch Speaks… and Sings!

They’re creepy, kooky, ooky and spooky. For decades, the amusingly macabre Addams Family has assumed a beloved spot in American pop culture via cartoons, a TV series and two big-screen capers. Tomorrow night they make their Broadway debut in a musical headlined by out actor Nathan Lane as the family’s wacky patriarch, Gomez, and the fabulous Bebe Neuwirth as his eternally devoted spouse, Morticia.

In other well-known roles, GLBT faves Kevin Chamberlin (of the movie Trick, and a Tony-nominee as Horton in Seussical: The Musical) and Jackie Hoffman (who was featured in the original Broadway casts of Hairspray and Xanadu) star as Uncle Fester and Grandmama, respectively. However, the Addams family wouldn’t be complete without its one non-biological member: Lurch, their seemingly undead butler/man-servant.

28-year old singer-actor Zachary James portrays Lurch in The Addams Family: A New Musical, and at 6’6” he more than fits the bill physically. The character of Lurch, though, isn’t exactly known for his vocal prowess. Traditionally, Lurch has been a man of few words, usually relying on painful-sounding moans and groans to express himself.

Bass-baritone James had to create a vocal and physical language for Lurch based on very little material. “I have the original cartoons (by the Addams Family’s creator and namesake, Charles Addams) all over my dressing room,” James told me during a recent telephone interview from New York. “They’ve been very helpful in developing a movement vocabulary for Lurch.” And yes, Lurch does sing in at least one of the show’s numbers.

“My first exposure to the characters was the 1991 movie (which featured actor Carel Struycken as Lurch, in addition to memorable performances by Anjelica Huston as Morticia and the late Raul Julia as Gomez),” James elaborated, “then I started watching the 1960’s TV series.”

He continued, regarding the stage musical: “We are drawing primarily from the original New Yorker cartoons, but we owe a debt to the TV series since it gave the characters names.” Charles Addams had originally refrained from identifying the members of his cartoon “family.”

James made his Broadway debut in Coram Boy a mere six months after he moved to New York. Prominent roles in the hit revival of South Pacific as well as regional productions of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum followed. James’ hometown is Springs Hills, Florida, and he majored in musical theatre at Ithaca College. He is equally adept at opera, and past productions include La Boheme, Don Giovanni and Madama Butterfly.

“I’m having a lot of fun with Addams Family and creating a role; it’s very exciting to be a part of this show,” James said, while confessing his fondness for Sondheim’s works. “(The Addams Family) is my first new musical, and it has been a fascinating experience putting it together since the first reading two years ago.”

The Addams Family musical is written by the award-winning Jersey Boys team of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice in collaboration with acclaimed Broadway songwriter Andrew Lippa. It has been designed and directed by the Shockheaded Peter team of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, with an assist from musical-theatre veteran Jerry Zaks (Mame).

I asked James how The Addams Family was progressing prior to its New York premiere and following a successful run last fall in Chicago. “It’s going great,” he replied. “We had our first preview audience last night and it was very well-received; it’s very exciting to be part of this show.”

On working with his stellar, accomplished cast mates, James says, “It’s been just wonderful; it’s kind of like going to work with my heroes everyday, and everyone is a family.”

James recently made his television debut as well on the popular series 30 Rock. He shared the screen with Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. “It was quite fantastic,” James enthused. “It was my first gig on-camera and I kept wondering ‘What am I doing here?”

I asked James pointedly why GLBT people should go and see The Addams Family musical. “Well, it’s musical theatre, and it’s a surprisingly thoughtful show about love, acceptance and family,” he answered. “The tagline for the show’s marketing is ‘A Family Not Much Unlike Your Own,’ and there are plenty of political jokes in the show.”

With advance ticket sales of $15 million, the $17 million production is shaping up to be a major hit. If you are planning a trip to NYC this summer or in the eventual future, be sure to pay a visit to The Addams Family.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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