Douglas Sills stars as Gomez Addams
While Nathan Lane and Roger Rees have had their day as Broadway stars of the musical “The Addams Family,” Douglas Sills had rehearsals both in New York and in New Orleans as he prepared for the coveted role as Gomez Addams, the patriarch of the bizarre and macabre family first made popular by cartoonist Charles Addams.
A veteran of several starring roles on Broadway, most notably as a Tony Award nominee for “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” Sills is also regarded as one of the finest Shakespearean actors of his generation. He launched the national tour of “The Addams Family” as Gomez on September 15 at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre for the Performing Arts.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says in a telephone interview. “I can’t believe I am working with the incredible (creative consultant) Jerry Zaks, who is in the prime of his understanding of the art form.”
Sills, a native of Franklin, Michigan, a Detroit suburb, describes his upbringing as that of “typical Jewish progressive parents who appreciated the arts.” He distinctly remembers going to a big theatre to see Zero Mostel star in “Fiddler on the Roof,” a show which he believes also starred Zaks in the role of Motel, the tailor.
After performing for the first time at a summer camp in Michigan, Sills got bitten by the acting bug. He pays homage to the late Margaret Whiting, who helped jumpstart his career, but credits a 1975 production of “A Chorus Line” with giving him the resolve to move towards acting as a career. “My insides got rearranged while I was watching it,” he admits. “I thought to myself: ‘This is it.’”
Following graduation from the University of Michigan, Sills applied to law school, but admitted to his father that he wasn’t sure if that was his best career choice. Surprisingly, his father agreed and encouraged him to try his hand at acting.
Sills applied and was accepted to the graduate theatre program at the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco. “I thought I wanted to be a Shakespearean actor in the style of Olivier, Richardson and Gielgud,” he concedes. Sills considers the time he spent at ACT as “transformative.”
He believes one of the reasons he has been so successful with musical theatre roles is the training he received at ACT. “If people come to me (to perform) in musicals, it’s because I bring the classical theatre approach and really give it the integrity it deserves,” he explains. “That’s probably where I differentiate myself from many of my colleagues.”
Following graduation, he began to work in regional theatres including two seasons at the California Shakespeare Repertory Theatre and with several appearances on TV. Throughout this early period in his career he built a steady reputation as a quality character actor. “I worked in television quite a bit in those years,” he says.
During the early and mid-1990’s Sills took part in several national tours of Broadway shows including “The Secret Garden” and “Into the Woods.” The latter, in which he appeared as Rapunzel’s Prince, starred Cleo Laine and played at the Saenger Theatre, his first trip as an actor to New Orleans.
His big break on Broadway came in 1997 when he was offered the starring role as Sir Percy Blakeney in “ The Scarlet Pimpernel,” which led to his nomination for a Tony Award. He has since appeared in two other versions of that musical, including the lead in the national tour for several months.
While his heart may be in the classical theatre, Sills knows the payday for performing in a Broadway show is much greater than it would be for a dramatic play. “I still do both, but I earn a lot more money (from musicals),” he gushes.
Sills acknowledges that audiences and producers have responded to him, despite intense competition. “I’ve been able to establish a reputation,” he confesses. “You either have the chops or you don’t.”
The characters created in Charles Addams’ outlandish cartoons were first transformed into a TV series starring John Astin as Gomez and later into a successful film franchise starring the late Raul Julia.
To follow Lane and Rees in such a standout role is a new challenge for Sills. “Some things are likely stained on my memory,” he admits. “I’m not taking anything consciously. I saw Nathan early in the run and saw Roger when this opportunity came up.”
Sills loves the opportunity to portray Gomez. “He’s passionate and he’s capricious,” he confesses. “He’s a great lover and he’s crazy about his wife; he’s every actor’s dream.”
“The Addams Family” opened on Broadway in March of 2010 and has grossed over $72 million in its run thus far. With a book by Marshall Brickman and choreography by Sergio Trujillo, the national road tour also stars Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia Addams and Tony Award nominees Martin Vidnovic and Crista Moore as Bal and Alice Beineke.
Both composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa and Zaks retooled the show in rehearsals on Broadway adding new plot lines and musical moments not seen in the original cast performances. New lines have been added and lyrics in songs have been altered, according to Sills.
He suggests the underlying concept of “The Addams Family” may offer a life lesson to those that are different, especially to Jews. “It’s a beautiful color and it lends itself to this allegory about being outsiders, but being totally happy about being outsiders,” he says. “How often is it that we find we’re the only Jews in the room?”
“The Addams Family” continues to make way on its 30-city tour throughout the nation.