The Addams Family Opens Wheelock Family Theatre’s 2023–2024 season
Musical featuring America’s favorite kooky, spooky clan on stage through November 19
From the moment they first appeared in The New Yorker in 1938, the Addams Family has captivated the public with their ghoulish appearance and deliciously macabre sensibility. The creation of cartoonist Charles Addams, the characters—father Gomez, mother Morticia, children Wednesday and Pugsley, and a household of kooky relatives and creepy household staff (Thing and Lurch, we’re talking about you)—continued to appear in New Yorker pages off and on for the next 50 years. Readers delighted in the eccentric clan.
But it wasn’t until 1964, when ABC debuted a TV series based on Addams’ cartoons, that the characters entered the cultural zeitgeist. The show lasted only two seasons, but lived on (and on and on) in syndication and inspired several successful Hollywood films, as well as video games, comic books, an animated series, additional live-action TV series (most recently Netflix’s Wednesday, starring Jenna Ortega), and a Tony-nominated Broadway musical.
Now, that musical, The Addams Family—with a book by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa—has landed in Boston for a monthlong residence at Wheelock Family Theatre, the first production of its 2023-2024 season.
It’s the perfect show for Wheelock Family Theatre, says show director Nick Vargas, WFT’s associate artistic and education director.
“It’s a really beautiful, fun, quirky piece about love in all its forms and how families can come together despite their differences and celebrate love,” Vargas says. “And it’s intergenerational. We’ve got actors as young as 11 and then nearly 80. So this is an awesome opportunity not only for intergenerational audiences to come see the show, but also see that playing out on stage, to see actors playing characters who represent versions of themselves.”
The show is set during the one night of the year when all the Addams family ancestors come out of their graves for a family reunion in Central Park. Into this mix, daughter Wednesday, dubbed the princess of darkness, is about to introduce her family to Lucas Beinecke, the sweet young man from a “normal” Midwestern family she’s fallen in love with and is secretly engaged to. Family disagreements ensue, but in the end, love conquers all.
The musical features a mix of up-tempo song-and-dance numbers, along with heartfelt moments that explore what it means to feel different, to be a teenager in love, to raise children and see them preparing to begin their own lives.
Playing Wednesday is Emilia Tagliani, who has appeared in several WFT shows, among them 2019’s Willy Wonka (she was an Oompa-Loompa) and the next year’s Little Women: The Musical, where she played the youngest March sister, Amy. The 18-year-old says she was drawn to The Addams Family role because Wednesday is unlike any character she’s tackled before.
“Up until this point, I’ve played roles that are princessy or very emotional and expressive,” Tagliani says. “Wednesday’s outward appearance is very flat, that deadpan serious face, but she’s going through changes. Something’s different. She’s experiencing this new feeling she’s never felt before…she has all these new emotions.”
So far, she says, she’s resisted the urge to watch the original 1960s show or the Hollywood films featuring Christina Ricci as the deadpan Wednesday. And she’s not a fan of the Netflix series—she’s only watched a couple of episodes, she says. “I don’t like to copy anybody’s version of a role. I feel like I know a lot about the character already.” And being the same age as the character she’s playing, she identifies with a lot of the issues Wednesday is experiencing on stage.
“I can relate to the feeling that she has as a teenager, wanting to grow up and be this thing that she thinks you’re supposed to be, and she wants to be exposed to the world, but she’s not really sure how to do that. She doesn’t know what the right choice is, but she wants to be bold, and she wants to be rebellious.”
The heart of WFT’s mission
The show marks a homecoming for Jane Staab, the 79-year-old actor playing Grandma. Staab was one of the four cofounders of Wheelock Family Theatre in 1981. During her 33-year tenure at WFT, Staab estimates, she directed nearly three dozen productions and appeared onstage in about 80 productions. She says The Addams Family goes to the heart of WFT’s mission.
“This family is no ordinary family,” she says. “It’s macabre, yes, but they’re a tight group that loves each other and actually turns out to be just as normal as the Beinecke family. We’ve always described the family in Wheelock Family Theatre as encompassing the broadest sense of family—we all choose our families, and that covers a wide range of truly colorful families. So in a way, the Addams family lovingly represents who we are. The message remains the same: trust is important, understanding, flexibility, and honesty are crucial to getting along in this world.”
Veteran WFT set designer James Rotondo (CFA’17,’23) says that in designing this production, he wanted to embrace the theatrical look of the Addams family’s world. The painted backdrops are a nod to Charles Addams’ instantly identifiable New Yorker cartoons. And he designed a small proscenium stage to fit inside Wheelock’s larger proscenium stage to emphasize the show’s theatricality.
“The mini proscenium allows the audience to narrow their focus to the main action,” Rotondo says. “With the addition of lights along the proscenium, we can make the theatrical moments flashy and fun and we can play scenes against the red curtain…which we can open to reveal different props or locations.”
Rotondo says the biggest challenge in designing the set was ensuring that there was enough space for the big choral dance numbers without sacrificing the intimacy needed for scenes that include just two or three actors. His solution: designing a center section of the raised stage that can move forward or backward, bringing the action closer to the audience when needed, but can retract to make more room downstage for the big production numbers.
Vargas says The Addams Family dovetails nicely with the other two shows comprising WFT’s 2023-2204 season, Mr. Popper’s Penguins and A Wrinkle in Time, adaptations of two classic children’s books.
“All of these shows are about the lengths we go to to create a family or to maintain a family,” he says. “Mr. Popper’s Penguins is all about this couple who are working really hard, but haven’t had any children and just happen to be introduced to this beautiful band of penguins that become their family. And then A Wrinkle in Time is all about Meg’s journey to find her father, and realizing she has the strength and power she needed all along to be the heroine of her own story.”
As for The Addams Family, Vargas says, the Wheelock Family Theatre loves to share the experience of plays about families of all sizes and shapes and kinds.
“This is a perfect play for folks to come in and start our season off,” he says.
The Addams Family runs weekends through November 19 at the Wheelock Family Theatre, 180 Riverway, Boston. Performances are Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. Ticket prices range from $24 to $48. BU students, faculty, and staff are invited free of charge opening weekend (to reserve your ticket, use code “BUOpen”). BU students can purchase $12 tickets to any performance using the code “College.” Faculty and staff receive a 25 percent discount off a full price ticket with code “BUStaff.” Purchase tickets here, call 617-353-3001, or email WFTtix@bu.edu. ASL and AD performances are Sunday, November 5, at 2 pm, Thursday, November 9, at 10:30 am, and Saturday, November 11, at 7:30 pm. The production is recommended for audiences eight-plus.
WFT’s 2023-2024 season also includes Mr. Popper’s Penguins, a musical adaptation based on the novel of the same title by Richard and Florence Atwater, running February 10 to March 3, 2024, and A Wrinkle in Time, an adaptation by John Glore of Madeleine L’Engle’s best-selling novel of the same name, running April 13 to May 11, 2024.