Tell Samantha Womack that she looks like death warmed up and these days, she’ll take it as a compliment – it means she’s got her make-up right. Because if meeting a watery demise earlier this year in EastEnders wasn’t enough, Samantha’s latest project also sees her dabbling with death as she tours in the British and Irish premiere of the Broadway hit musical The Addams Family, playing Morticia Addams, the monster mum of a family of ghouls.
The Addams Family is based on the cartoons of Charles Addams. First published in The New Yorker magazine in the 1930s, the subsequent TV series spawned several spin-off shows, movies and books.
Now the show has made its way across the pond, but Samantha, whose career includes leading roles in South Pacific and Guys and Dolls, admitted that the idea of doing another musical at this point in time wasn’t high on her ‘to do’ list.
“I agreed to go to the initial meeting, but I wasn’t convinced,” she told me.
But preparing for that meeting entailed a certain amount of research, during which Samantha found her mind being changed.
“Immediately I got a very clear sense of how I should play the role. I’d never played a character that was so deadpan before and as I read the script I really started to enjoy it. I also really liked the character-style of singing, which was different to me. Suddenly I couldn’t stop thinking about it; I was being seduced!”
So the role chose her, not the other way around? Laughing, she nodded.
“When I realised I really wanted to play Morticia I was as surprised as everyone else, although it helped that the producers and creative team were just the
warmest group of people I had ever come across. There’s something very infectious about people who are so passionate about something.”
Bagging the role, she found herself in expert company. As well as a stunningly talented cast, who between them have appeared in just about every major musical of the past twenty years, The Addams Family has been written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the creators of multi award-winning Jersey Boys, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa.
“We’re really lucky,” sighed Samantha. “It’s a show with a credibility that is really exciting. The cast is phenomenal – musical theatre royalty –including Les Dennis. Les has starred in loads of musicals, including Spamalot, but he is also a really knowledgeable comedy buff. He is going to be great as Uncle Fester.”
Telling the story of Wednesday Addams, a princess of darkness with a shocking secret, when her father Gomez learns that she has fallen in love with a sweet, smart young man from a respectable family, he must do something he’s never done before — keep a secret from his beloved wife, Morticia. Inviting Wednesday’s ‘normal’ boyfriend and family to dinner, meeting Lurch, Pugsley Uncle Fester and the rest of the clan will ensure that it’s a night that nobody will forget in a hurry. With lots of laughs and terrific music along the way, Samantha hopes that families will come and enjoy a really good night out together.
“My daughter, who is 12, especially loves the character Wednesday and I think most young girls will really be drawn to her. The age guide is seven plus, but it is very much a family show that will really entertain people and send them home with a light and happy feeling. It’s just that kind of piece.”
By dint of her career Samantha’s children have grown up in and around theatre, but all children having access to live performance is something she actively champions.
“Engaging in live performance is something that should be possible for all children. There’s a lot of debate about theatre being elitist at the moment and I’m trying to set up a relationship between children in care and production companies so that when there are empty seats these children can benefit from the experience.”
Thoughtfully, she added: “As I get older, the need to have a bit more creative control is important and I am passionate about exploring ideas and telling stories that need to be told. Making theatre and film that is inclusive is something that I seem to be gravitating towards. I’m not sure how it’s going to manifest itself yet, but I’m definitely being pulled in that direction.”
As for touring, living out of a suitcase doesn’t worry Samantha.
“EastEnders meant that I was stationary for a long time. Going back to treading the boards was appealing. I stop myself tail-spinning by staying fit and healthy and by keeping to my own little routines, but touring is exciting and each theatre gets a slightly different production, because architecturally and acoustically every theatre is a different experience.
Confessing that her dressing room tends to look more like someone’s sitting room than a place of work, Samantha finds home comforts, well, comforting.
“I have lots of photographs around me and wherever possible I have the kids and the dogs with me. That makes me very happy.”
Before we said goodbye we marvelled again at the incredible longevity of a family that started life as a magazine cartoon almost eighty years ago.
“The Addams Family is really ingrained in American history. I remember watching a repeat of the TV series in the 80s and I loved it. I especially loved the wistful quality of Carolyn Jones, the actress who played Morticia; it was as if she was trapped in another age. Regal but wistful is how I see her.”
She might have left the clan-clashing of Albert Square behind, but for the next few months Samantha is going to be surrounded by another wonderfully odd family. Still, a ghoul’s gotta do what a ghoul’s gotta do…
Photo: Craig Sugden