“Opening in Chicago is a total no-brainer,” says Andrew Lippa, the composer/lyricist for the deliciously mordant new musical The Addams Family. “Audiences here are smart. And appreciative. And receptive to new work. We’re going to learn a million new things a night once we start up.”
Raised in Detroit and a graduate of the University of Michigan, Lippa speaks from experience—a lot of experience, since he’s built his resumé here. In 1998, Lippa’s delightfully revitalized version of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown charmed audiences at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. The show went on to Broadway—and earned multiple Tony nominations.
But it was a girl gang, not the Peanuts gang, that solidified Lippa’s long-term relationship with Chicago. Asphalt Beach—the rambunctious tale of Catholic schoolgirls raising havoc on the Jersey shore—brought Lippa, now 44, to Northwestern University. In 2006, he not only wrote the score for NU’s American Music Theatre Project, he stuck around to teach musical theatre performance. The following two summers, he returned from New York to the NU campus to work with aspiring student composers—some of whom have become colleagues. (One of the rehearsal pianists for The Addams Family is a Northwestern grad.)
With The Addams Family, Lippa moves to another level entirely, bypassing the low-profile charms of suburbia for the Versailles-on-acid glitz of the Loop’s Oriental Theatre. There, Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth are practicing Addams Family values, shaping Lippa’s words and music into flesh-and-blood incarnations of Gomez and Morticia Addams. “It is absolutely exhilarating writing for these two,” says Lippa. It is also something of a pressure cooker, he admits. The last time Lane came through Chicago, it was to premiere The Producers. If Lippa is a bit haunted by expectations of another Lane-driven blockbuster, that’s understandable.
“For sure, the stakes are up there,” he says. “No question, this is the highest profile thing I’ve done.”
GO: The Addams Family opens Nov. 13th at the FORD CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS, 24 W. Randolph St.; 312-977-1700, theaddamsfamilymusical.com
Photograph: Evan Kafka