Tony-nominated Douglas Sills, the original Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel on Broadway, is currently starring as Gomez in the national tour of The Addams Family at the Capitol Theatre. He was gracious enough to take the time to speak with BroadwayWorld about his experiences reinventing these roles for the rewritten versions of the two musicals.
When Sills received a call from a producer friend asking if he would be interested in playing Gomez on The Addams Family tour (a role originated by Nathan Lane on Broadway), his first reaction was negative. Earlier in his career, he had played supporting roles in the first national tours of Into the Woods and The Secret Garden, so he knew firsthand the difficulties of touring life.
He also had reservations about the show, which had mixed reviews on Broadway, and the role. “Why would I want to do a play that people more experienced than I in writing couldn’t fix?” he said. “Why would I want to follow Nathan Lane? He’s one of our greatest performers, and if he couldn’t make it work, how could I? We’re not even the same type.”
However, because Sills knew many members of the creative team well, he felt obligated to speak with them. Production supervisor Jerry Zaks had directed him in Little Shop of Horrors on Broadway, choreographer Sergio Trujillo was currently directing him in White Noise in Chicago, producer Stuart Oken had worked with him on a four-week workshop for Disney, and he had grown up with composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa in the same area of Michigan at around the same time.
Upon learning that the team was committed to rewriting the show and reimagining the character, many of Sills’ worries were assuaged. There was just the question of whether or not he wanted to be away from home to tour. Upon urging from his partner, he agreed to do it. “At some point you make a leap across unfounded territory based on your belief,” he said. “In this case it paid off quite nicely for everyone.”
Sills said that the creators’ main change from Broadway to tour was centering the story on the relationship of the parents, Gomez and Morticia, rather than on that of their daughter, Wednesday, and her fiancé, Lucas. “Before, they didn’t have strong circumstances to engage them,” he said. “As a result, they didn’t have a lot to do—they were a spinning wheel. They were the sun of the family’s solar system and it was important that they be the center. Once that decision had been made, other things fell into place nicely. The comedy tended to become more situational rather than added on.” This shift in the plot led to many new songs and scenes for Gomez.
When asked the difference between creating a new character from scratch and reinventing one that has already been originated by another actor, Sills said that the fundamentals are the same. He applies the same techniques to every role he plays, whether it’s Mamet or My Fair Lady. “Someone probably comes to Douglas Sills because he tends to think of things from the ground up,” he said. “What does the character want? What does he need? How likely is he to get it? How badly does he want it? What’s he willing to do to get it? What’s in the way?”
In the rehearsal process for The Addams Family, some elements were shorthanded by the creators simply because they had been through them before and knew how they wanted them to go. One example is the dinner sequence, which was kept similar to the Broadway original.
Sills was given the freedom to explore the character of Gomez, but not as much as he had, for example, when he first created the role of Percy in The Scarlet Pimpernel. “The difference is in the way rehearsals are conducted,” he said. “How open is staff to ideas? There is a shorter rehearsal period. Still, the kernel of the chore is the same—creating a living, breathing thing that is as three-dimensional as possible.”