Gay Broadway veteran Douglas Sills is the apple of ‘Addams’
Douglas Sills owes a lot to touring in musicals — mostly, a 20-year relationship.
Sills was playing the villain in the national tour of The Secret Garden — the production that came through Dallas — when he met Todd, a member of the ensemble. What started as a showmance blossomed into something more; they celebrated their 19th anniversary over Labor Day.
A lot has happened since then. Todd stopped acting, and Sills has since debuted on Broadway, snagging a Tony Award nomination as lead actor in a musical as the fop-turned-hero in The Scarlet Pimpernel. And for nearly 20 years, Sills hasn’t toured.
Until now. For almost a year, he’s headlined the national tour of The Addams Family, which settles into Dallas as the State Fair musical for several weeks, starting Tuesday. So what brought him back to the road?
“It sort of depends where you are in your life — it’s a constellation of factors. It’s been many, many years but I did know what the experience would be like. One thing I was not prepared for is how every night, you come out and get the laughter and pleasure from the audience. It’s so huge, you feel like you’re doing something good. To be in a comedy that’s working is a rarity and to be in a musical comedy that’s working is like riding a beautiful wave.”
Sills enjoyed it so much, he recently signed on again to continue with the show through at least the end of the year.
He probably had some reason to be nervous. While Addams Family had a respectable run on Broadway (it ran 722 performances), it received mixed reviews. The original production also starred Nathan Lane, portraying a character John Astin made iconic on television (and Raul Julia later in film). That’s a lot of baggage.
But Sills was undeterred.
“I was not really daunted by the iconic character of the show. Maybe I should have been more,” he says. “I watched it as a little boy, but I didn’t understand how deeply John Astin had inculcated himself into the psyche of the American populace [until I started touring]. He had a wonderful, wonderful way about him. When I was in Baltimore I asked to meet him — he teaches there — and it was a real pleasure. We really connected because we were both classically trained. We both approached it like you approach Strindberg: ‘What does my character want, what am I willing to do to get it.’ Once I made the decision, it became all-consuming so I didn’t give myself a lot of room to worry.”
He also asked the producers why they wanted to take a show that got a mixed critical response on the road; one thing they did was retool the script and some songs to make it funnier. “I had great guidance with Jerry Zaks,” the legendary theater veteran who took over directing the show late in the process. (It’s also an Equity production; “they didn’t spare any expense,” Sills insists.)
So, if Sills approaches a character like Gomez Addams with the same intensity of Hamlet, is there part of him that’s creepy or kooky? Or mysterious and spooky? Or perhaps he’s altogether ooky?
“I don’t think I have anything in me that doesn’t fall into one of those categories,” he says with a straight face. “My entire raison d’etre is encompassed in those adjectives — and that would be generous. ‘Ooky’ is probably the closest. We were watching a movie about Edgar Allan Poe the other day and I said, ‘What’s so weird about Poe? To me he’s not dark at all.’”
Having now played both the effeminate dandy of Pimpernel and the passionate Bohemian Gomez, one must be closer to Sills’ actual persona, yes?
“I’d have to say Gomez,” he laughs. “The genital chakra is a big center of energy for me.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 28, 2012.