by Mo Brady
When I first joined the Broadway cast of The Addams Family in 2011, the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre was not exactly the happiest theatre on the Great White Way. The show had opened to scathing reviews months before and was virtually shut out of the Tony Awards. By the time I arrived, audiences were full but mostly because tickets had been bought before opening, when the promise of Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth was enough of a draw. All this to say, it wasn’t exactly a joyous work environment when I began.
As the months passed, the backstage vibe changed from blasé to content. By the time the show closed, I had had truly joyous moments of backstage antics and dressing room chats. But considering the mixed success of our show publicly, I didn’t expect for my appearance in The Addams Family to be much of a calling card in the years to come.
But then, something happened. High schools started doing productions of The Addams Family. And not just a few high schools - A LOT of high schools. Just four years after closing on Broadway, The Addams Family found itself the most-produced high school musical in the U.S. for the 2014-2015 school year.
And the 2015-2016 school year.
And the 2016-2017 school year.
Our little show, which in its original Broadway production was overshadowed by critical darlings like Memphis and Fela!, has become a hit.
In the Broadway and National Tour productions, each member of the ensemble played a different character: a pilgrim, a flapper, a conquistador (that was me). Each of us had incredibly distinct costumes that made us feel unique and individualized, even though in practice we were basically a unified Greek chorus of dead relatives.
However, in the script of The Addams Family the ensemble is simply titled as “Ancestors.” Nowhere is there a reference to a pilgrim, a flapper or a conquistador. So there isn’t a reason that any future productions should include actors in these roles.
But today, I came across a slew of Pinterest pages featuring Addams Family Ancestors. And there, I found photo after photo of little conquistadors: wearing ridiculously bulbous pantaloons, their faces covered in white makeup, their heads adorned with feathered helmets.
Finding photos of these young conquistadors, I feel like I’m a leader in a club. Not an elite club, but a select club. A club of actors who know what’s it like to feel the cold breeze of the stage fog hit your tights as you lurch across the stage during “When You’re An Addams.” A club of actors who mindlessly itch the bullet wound on their breast plate of armor, as if it was an wound they just can’t heal. A club of actors who have created an entire unspoken story arc which involves them lusting after Wednesday Addams, but is never explained to the audience (or anyone else in the theatre, for that matter).
In a Broadway ensemble, you don’t necessarily feel like you’re leaving your mark on the art form of American Musical Theatre. Particularly if your show wasn’t a critical success. But these young conquistadors prove that feeling false. When you’re part of a new musical - no matter how small the part - you become part of the fabric of that piece.
And if you’re lucky, while you’re surfing the Internet, you get to come across photos of young children that remind you of just that.