Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2012 Interview with Douglas Sills

Actor/singer Douglas Sills began his Broadway career in the 90s essaying the role of infamous Sir Percy in Frank Wildhorn's musical of The Scarlet Pimpernel for which he won critical acclaim and a Tony Award nomination. Since then, he has been in, among many others, the revival of Little Shop of Horrors, Into the Woods, The Secret Garden, all on Broadway, as well as the rarely seen concert of the 1930s Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein Music in the Air with Kristin Chenoweth and a slew of musical roles in LA including Mack Sennett in Reprise's Mack and Mabel and Ravenal in the Hollywood Bowl's production of Showboat. He has just started the tour of The Addams Family starring as Gomez and will open at the Pantages Theatre on June 5. In our chat, he talks at length about playing Gomez, the changes since New York in the road version of Addams Family and chooses some of his favorite all-time roles.

Are you having fun playing Gomez Addams? Tell us in detail.

It's a little like being a grownup on a playground...when you're a little boy playing pirate ship, because Gomez is just incredibly excited and happy, he's vivacious and so bizarre...well, he's not bizarre to me, but to the world at large, he's kind of bizarre. That makes it just fantastically fun. Most of the result of how fun it is, is because of  the cast. They're just so talented. Often times on a tour, you're relegated to a second or third tier
actor, but it was very important to this producer to have the best.

To me the entire Addams family is bizarre. How do you play Gomez as distinct and different from the other relatives like say Uncle Fester?

(laughs) They're as different as two brothers can be. Fester is a solitary genius, a little like Peter Sellars' character in Being There. He's a childlike character that every once in a while comes out with these genius remarks. Gomez is much more traditional. He's a man who's had all of his dreams come true. Every day he wakes up and can't believe how lucky he is with the most gorgeous bride in the world, who thinks exactly as he does aesthetically. He thinks that he's dreaming. He has a little money, and he's very proud of his heritage, and he can indulge his most delicious appetites for sword play or exotic pets or a beautiful home in the middle of Central Park. This guy has every guy's dream: he has the ultimate man cave. It's sort of a combination of the pirate king from Pirates of Penzance and Peter Griffin from Family Guy. He's very childlike and very happy.

I know there was controversy with the show on Broadway with its stars (Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth). Is the tour that you're doing the same or have there been changes since New York?

Like the TV series, it's very commercial with comedy first and foremost. It's pretty clever, though: the lyrics and the jokes are wonderfully sophisticated, in the way Seinfeld perhaps was. The current show is very different from Broadway. The New York show was not successful to the tastes of the creative staff or the actors. I don't think they reached their potential. I think everybody would agree with that. With a chance to take another crack at the show, everybody agreed that they wanted to go in and work on it. They did that, and the show is now 40-50% different. New songs. Where songs were eliminated, there are songs that are completely new. They're not just changed. There's also a very significant new plotline. That lends itself to new dialogue. The show has a very different feel to it. Nathan (Lane) and I are not similar types. We haven't approached the role similarly, and I had the great luxury of knowing roughly what he did... and trying something different.

Is there any chance the show may be recorded with the new songs?

We haven't talked about recording it, but we have set a filming date. When we get to Washington, DC in a month, a new company has come on board and paid for the rights to film the show for feature release. There will be several days of multi-camera filming of the show in performance. That will go on a feature DVD, which will have feature release and then will go out to PBS and DVD sales. This is also the edition, the creators have decided, that will be published. It also just opened in Brazil, will shortly open in Australia and shortly after that they hope on the West End. This is the show they hoped for but didn't have the opportunity to finally fix, because when they realized it needed work, they already had their Broadway date (about five years ago); they just didn't have the window. Jerry Zaks did come on board as director but he was hamstrung to some degree by a time constraint. I'm not at the point in my career where I'm interested in doing a tour; a tour is a very rough life. But...they seduced me with the premise of creating it anew with some great partners both onstage and off.

Why do you think The Addams Family has stayed so popular since the 60s?

Two reasons. One is that, for some reason, America, or maybe all of Western culture, have the sensational desire for this aesthetic reversal. This day/night reversal where we're drawn to the Vampire Diaries and True Blood and Twilight and Dracula remakes over and over. The whole wave that Halloween has become this national holiday, people love the premise of demystifying the scary and the terrible. If we can embrace it, the scariest things in life become enjoyable. That's sort of an existential universal for everyone. The second reason is, they're funny. And if something is truly funny, it doesn't matter how foreign or unlikely a pitch that it's going to be. If you pitch Seinfeld, for example, no one's going to buy that. Ultimately, there were magical elements that came together that made it funny. 

Anything else that we can attribute specifically to the 60s?

Yes, when the TV series the Addams Family came out in the 60s, you have to keep in mind that our nation was glued to the television and television was funneled into three networks only. Everybody saw it. Nostalgically looking back, it was a simpler time, and the charm is that those characters were portraying average family scenarios, but with this incredibly dynamic macabre aesthetic. And so you had people just trying to cope with family issues like keeping a marriage together or raising a child or navigating an in-law. Rather than having a picnic, they were pouring hot oil off the roof onto some carolers. It's just fundamentally fantastic, and everybody loves how beautifully nasty it is. We're just drawn to it, and the appetite shows no signs of abating. 

Give us an example.

Take Harry Potter. It's essentially magic; there's a lot of darkness to it.  That's all analysis after the fact. Before the curtain opens on our show, you hear...(he hums the theme), and the audience is so warm and ready to be entertained. There's no time where I have to spend easing them into it. They know they're going to get to see all the characters that they love in a house that they grew to love. Fester, Lurch... but they're going to get to see them in a very modern setting. We're talking about texting, about health care, about Charlie Sheen. I think that's the biggest surprise for people. They just were not prepared for how funny it is. They didn't quite know what to expect. The TV show was only 21 minutes; we're taking them on a journey for a couple of hours. It's been a lot of fun.

What's your favorite role?

(laughs) I guess it would have to be a tie between Benedict in Much Ado (About Nothing) at South Coast Rep and...this. I mean the Scarlet Pimpernel was a big, life-changing role, it sort of changed my career and it will always remain a favorite. So I guess those three.

I loved you in Mack and Mabel as well.

Oh, thank you.  I would love to have spent more time on that. That's a show where the book has been a problem. It has a fantastic score, one of the best scores in musical theatre. But the book has been a bit of an issue. It never got resolved, and I think the producers who were willing to put money in it, wanted to make some changes. Francine, the surviving sister of the original book writer Michael Stewart was not interested in giving up control. She felt she should write it and many people were not prepared to put money on her. I think that's where it stopped. Should it be the dark, drug-addicted version that they tried or should they end up more on the happier side of things and try and soften it a bit? It's hard to know when there are 12-15 million dollars at stake.

What role(s) do you long to play? 

Oh my Gosh, plenty. I'd love to do Richard III and I'd love to do Harold Hill (The Music Man). How's that for opposites! (laughs)

What about Cyrano?

It has not happened yet. But Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn wrote a Cyrano that I did the concept recording for. It is an expensive show. Obviously everybody would get quite sure if my name were Hugh Jackman. It's a whole economic model. And I understand that. Hopefully it will come around. The good thing about Cyrano is that the age range is very large. You can play him at a wide range of ages.

I read that you also wanted to become a lawyer.What would have happened if you had gone back to law school instead of doing the Scarlet Pimpernel?

I don't know. My old man was an attorney, but he was all for my giving the theatre a shot, because "you love it!" I'm sure you'd be saying President Sills right now. (we laugh) I'm sure the country is just longing for a gay, Jewish President....(we laugh even more)

Doug Sills is coming home to Los Angeles with The Addams Family. Don't miss him at the Pantages Theatre from June 5-17! This very intelligent, fun-loving actor is really excited about his engagement here, which I'm sure will be great!

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