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Douglas Sills on Touring in a Dramatically Different Addams Family and Chemistry with Stage Wife Sara Gettelfinger

Douglas Sills on Touring in a Dramatically Different Addams Family and Chemistry with Stage Wife Sara Gettelfinger
Douglas Sills and Sara Gettelfinger in 'The Addams Family.'
'My personal life journey has allowed me to appreciate this job in a way I might not have five years ago.'

Douglas Sills made a splashy Broadway debut 14 years ago in the title role of Frank Wildhorn’s musical version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Tall, dashing and hilarious, the big-voiced actor nabbed a Tony nomination for his performance as French aristocrat-turned-swashbuckling superhero Percy Blakeney. Since then, Sills has worked mostly from Los Angeles, with extended periods helping to run a family business in his native Detroit. Earlier this year, Jerry Zaks, who directed Sills in a 2003 Broadway mounting of Little Shop of Horrors, asked the star to hit the road as Gomez in a revamped version of The Addams Family—and luckily for audiences around the country, Sills said yes. The show and its leading man are getting great reviews, and the star reflected on his return to musicals during a recent chat with Broadway.com.

You’ve been on the road in The Addams Family since September. Are you having fun?
Oh, yeah. If you can’t have fun, you’re in the wrong business! I feel really lucky right now, because every day feels good to me, each city is interesting, and the cast is so talented. That said, I think my personal life journey has allowed me to appreciate this job in a way I might not have five years ago.

How so?
My priorities have shifted a bit. When you go through life events like losing a parent, you appreciate simpler things: having a great job, being interested in what you’re doing, working in a community of like-minded people who want to make something together. Those things are more important than asking yourself, “Where am I going? How am I getting there? Will I ever have a television show? Will my friends think I’m important?” I had actually abandoned the [acting] profession for a couple of years to take over a family business.

What was the family business?
My father established a commercial real estate portfolio that my sister was running. After he passed, she ran into some health concerns, and I took over quite suddenly, not knowing much about it. I thought it would be a 60-day thing, and I’m still doing it; I moved home to Detroit and stopped performing. So I have a more mature appreciation for this opportunity. And also for my partner—because if Todd had not said, “I think this might be fun for you,” I don’t know if I would have considered it because it meant we would be apart.

Is your partner traveling with you?
No, he has a very full life; he has business interests, but he has visited several times, and I spend time with him when we have breaks. It’s a burden, but we both feel it’s been worthwhile, and I’m glad he suggested that I look at it seriously when the opportunity came up.

The touring version of The Addams Family has been substantially revamped, and Gomez has a lot of new material, right?
I have two or three of the same songs with altered lyrics, and two or three singing things that are completely new. And new scenes.

What did you think of the Broadway production of the show?
I’m in awe of those performers. Nathan [Lane] and Roger [Rees] are men whose work I revere, and I feel tremendously honored to be mentioned in the same company. But when they approached me about the show and said, “We’re looking forward to making some not insignificant improvements,” I understood the direction they wanted to go and I thought their ideas were good ideas.

Are the changes designed to strengthen the relationship between Gomez and Morticia?
[The creators] felt that Gomez and Morticia were central, and the storyline didn’t reflect that they are the sun around which the rest of the play revolves. I wish that those gentlemen [Lane and Rees] had the opportunity I’ve had to work on the new script. I think they would have enjoyed their work even more.

What’s it like working with Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia? You two look great together.
She is a beautiful, very talented woman, so it’s not hard! I think we both understood the importance of having a good relationship offstage so that the love between our characters is clear onstage. Their intense love affair, with a tremendous element of sexual chemistry, is the sun around which the rest of the play revolves.

Is there any chance that you could re-open The Addams Family in New York?
I can’t imagine that that’s logistically possible, but I think [the show’s producers and creators] are very proud of what they’ve achieved. Not that they said, “This was bad, and now it is good”—I owe whatever success we’re having to the luxury of the creators getting to watch the greatest living performers do their show for a year and then ask themselves, “If I could change something, what would I do differently?” Whether it’s The Little Mermaid or Tarzan or Shrek, I think we’re learned that Broadway isn’t necessarily a terminus. There will be productions of The Addams Family in the next few months in South America and Australia, so there was a lot of motivation to let the published version of the show be the best it can be.

It would be great to have you back on Broadway!
Well, can you put together a $12 million package and find a show for me? [Laughs.] I hope that happens, too. [Addams Family librettists] Rick [Elice] and Marshall [Brickman] joke with me, “We’re writing something for you now,” which would be lovely. I think I would enjoy it in a way that I hadn’t before. I have done many, many workshops, as we all do; many, many readings, as we all do. It’s luck of the draw.

You won instant Broadway fame in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Are you still in touch with Frank Wildhorn, who had two Broadway setbacks this year [Wonderland and Bonnie and Clyde]?
Yes, though not as frequently as we were. I think we both felt we found a brother when we worked together, so we talk. He’s had quite a year. I admire his persistence and dedication and his pathological optimism [laughs]. I think you would find him saddened and wounded by recent events, but not cowed or beaten. He’s had tremendous success.

You and Kristin Chenoweth had great chemistry in Encores’ concert staging of Music in the Air three years ago. Is there a musical that you two could do together?
We have talked about a couple of things, but obviously she has her career trajectory right now and she has to make hay while the sun shines. She showed me a great deal of regard, and I made it clear that I thought she was the bee’s knees, as well.

Meanwhile, how are audiences around the country responding to The Addams Family?
They’re really loving it, more so than my conservative judgment ever expected. They’re on their feet every night, and there’s a great deal of laughter. When I go out among them to collect for Broadway Cares, I hear, “I didn’t know what this was going to be like” or “I came for my wife and kids, but I had the most fantastic time.” It’s been a real pleasure.

See Sills and the rest of his on-stage family when The Addams Family comes to the Capitol Theatre from November 13 through November 18.