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Carolee Carmello Is One of the Family

The Tony Award-nominated star discusses playing the kooky Alice Beineke in Broadway's The Addams Family.

By New York City
Carolee Carmello
(© Tristan Fuge)
Carolee Carmello
(© Tristan Fuge)
Carolee Carmello is one of musical theater's most respected actresses, having earned Tony Award nominations for Parade and Lestat, and having appeared on Broadway in such shows as Falsettos, Kiss Me, Kate, and Mamma Mia!, in which she had a three-year run as Donna Sheridan. Now, she's back on the Great White Way as kooky mom Alice Beineke in the much-anticipated musical The Addams Family at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre opposite Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. Carmello recently spoke to TheaterMania about being part of this exciting project.

THEATERMANIA: Tell us a little about your character, Alice, and how she comes to meet the Addams Family.
CAROLEE CARMELLO: Alice is the mom of Lucas, who is Wednesday Addams' new boyfriend, and the set-up is that we come to dinner to meet her parents for the first time. Obviously, the two families are from different worlds and no one knows what to expect from the other. Alice is flighty, kooky, a little repressed, and goes into fits of rhyming for no apparent reason -- which is really fun for me. At the end of the first act, she accidentally takes a potion and her personality takes a big turn. All of a sudden, she's not the same old Alice any more.

TM: What was your first impression of Alice when you went into audition for the role?
CC: They gave me this big monologue they had written just for the audition -- it's not in the show -- and I saw Alice as someone who is constantly giggly and smiley. Alice's favorite color is yellow, which is as far from Morticia's all-black wardrobe that you can get, so in some ways, she's clearly a contrast to her. But I also realized Alice's outward happiness was all a façade covering her unhappiness. She's the type of person that if you can see through the cracks, you can see underneath to who she really is.

TM: Has Alice changed a lot from the workshops to the Chicago production to Broadway?
CC: I think all the characters have changed a bit over the past year. Because no one had a predetermined idea of my character -- she's not from the original cartoons -- I've had some more freedom in making her what I want her to be. The Addamses are so iconic that everyone has an idea of who they are and that's made it trickier to change them.

TM: Midway through your Chicago run, Jerry Zaks came in as a creative consultant. How has he affected the production?
CC: When Jerry came in, he really came in as the alpha male, and that did change the whole dynamic. I also think Jerry's brand of humor is very well suited to musical theater. He has that ability to craft a true musical theater moment, and there were definitely some things in the show that needed crafting. The science of comedy is fascinating to me. There was this one scene where I couldn't get a laugh no matter what, and he told me to take out the pause between the first half and second half of this sentence. And once I did, every night I got the laugh. And then I did it the old way one night, and I didn't get the laugh. So if you work with Jerry and he tells you to pause or not to pause, listen.

TM: What's your working relationship like with this cast?
CC: This group is full of a lot of talented people, and talented people have opinions, including myself. So yes, we all want to throw our two cents in and we have. But this mix has had the potential to really create incredible theater. I think it's all worked out for the best and I don't think anyone has gotten hurt.

Carolee Carmello and Terrence Mann in The Addams Family
(© Joan Marcus)
Carolee Carmello and Terrence Mann in The Addams Family
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: Do you enjoy working with Terrence Mann, who plays your husband?
CC: Terry and I have a good time together; we make each other laugh. I will say I think Terry's a deeper actor than I am. He's more about figuring out the intentions of his character, and I am one of those actors who work from the outside in. For me, it's all about the hair or the wig, or in this case, the chiffon yellow dress Alice wears.

TM: You're a mother of two children in real life, but are you okay with playing mothers on stage?
CC: I'm okay; because what's the alternative? I'm approaching 50 and if I want to work, it's going to be mothers. No one's asking me to play Sophie in Mamma Mia! anytime soon.

TM: Your son is 9; how does that compare with playing the mother of Wesley Taylor's character, who's in his late teens?
CC: I love Wesley, and he is a lot less work than my son; when he goes home, I don't worry about whether he's brushing his teeth. But it's not as dissimilar as you might think. They both have a lot of energy and those big fun personalities that young boys have.

TM: So, do you want to talk to the producers to add a little megamix at the end of the show, just like you had at Mamma Mia!?
CC: No thanks! Some nights at the end of Mamma Mia!; I'd think I was done, and then remember I have to do 10 minutes of dancing. They have mercifully given us a pretty traditional bow here, with no dancing in the aisles. But it's a great score; who knows, there could be a megamix someday.


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