The Addams Family: Q&A with Krysta Rodriguez and Wesley Taylor

The cast of The Addams Family arrived in town this week for its final weeks of rehearsals before the show begins previews November 13. (The show won't open for the press until December 9.) There are plenty of big names (Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth) and Broadway stalwarts (Kevin Chamberlin, Carolee Carmello, Terrence Mann) in the New York-bound production, but the cast also features some young up-and-comers. I sat down yesterday with two of them: Krysta Rodriguez, who portrays the show's 18-year-old Wednesday Addams, and Wesley Taylor, who plays Wednesday's unnervingly "normal" boyfriend Lucas Beineke.

TOC: I've seen your resumes, but tell me about your backgrounds. Where did you grow up? Where'd you go to school?

Krysta Rodriguez: I grew up in Orange County, California, and went to a performing arts high school there; the Orange County High School of the Arts. And then after that I went to New York for college; I went to NYU for a couple of years, and although I would have loved to finish I did not get that opportunity because I started working. So…no degree in musical theater, but so far an okay career.

TOC: Yeah, so far I guess you haven't needed it.

KR: Yeah, [whispering] don’t tell.

Wesley Taylor:
I was born in Jersey, but can’t really count it cause I moved to Florida instantly when I was a baby. I grew up in Orlando, Florida and went to an arts high school then went to drama school at North Carolina School of the Arts in North Carolina. So I spent four years in NC, then moved to the city.

TOC: Interesting that you both went to arts high schools. How did you develop that interest in performing and the arts?

WT: It was just knowing at a young age this is what we wanted to do pretty seriously.

KR: I started out doing children’s theater, and a chunk of people that were in the children’s theater had gone to the arts high school, so that’s how I learned about it. I didn’t really know that that kind of thing existed and it wasn’t until that time—I remember I was in, like, a dance recital and I told my mom, "I just love the smell of the theater. It smells different there and I want to smell that." And she said, "You know, you can do this for a career," and that just blew my mind. From that point it has just been no looking back.

WT: I went to a private, Christian, Southern Baptist school from kindergarten through eight grade and I was, you know, [self-deprecatingly] the star of every play in the school, and I was like, This is not enough. [Laughing] I needed more.

KR: He was his small town’s hero!

WT: I wanted to be among other people who wanted to do what I did. That was the only school to go to in Orlando where that was central, the arts. So I went there, and the best thing about that school is it pointed me to the best drama schools, conservatories for college. So I went to…sorry…um…Where was I going with this?

KR: I don’t know, but we have the exact same life, I'm realizing.

TOC: Krista, you in the last few years have had a lot of ensemble roles and a lot of understudy roles. This is kind of a major break, right?

KR: Yeah, definitely.

WT: She’s going to be a staaahh.

KR: I had played a role in [the 2006 revival of] A Chorus Line. I was Bebe, but I was a replacement. This is the first time I have originated a role. That is the holy grail for actors. Being able to originate, that is something we all look for. So this is definitely the most exciting and intensive and all-encompassing thing that I’ve ever achieved. Its going to be very exciting. My parents are thrilled, as am I.

TOC: Wesley, you on the other hand kind of landed Rock of Ages right out of college. Is that right?

WT: Yeah, I was really lucky. I’ve been blessed; when I got done with school I started working, which is pretty awesome. But, um, I’ve been out of school for a year and a half and this is… this is her fifth Broadway show. She’s been around the block, she’s a vet on me. Yeah, I’m just thrilled that things keep on happening.

TOC: So what was the process like for you both getting involved with this show? Did you have to go through rounds and rounds of auditions?

KR: Oh yeah.

WT: [laughs] Yeah!

KR: The first reading that I was involved in was August of last year. I was in the ensemble. Go figure, always. Then it came around again in January and I re-auditioned. So from the first, I had to audition several times—and the show hadn’t even been really written yet. They had a structure and they had written a script, a few songs—some of which are not in the show anymore. So we kind of didn’t know what the parts were or what the show was yet. The auditions were very involved; very much like, sing this or sing that, let’s try this or try that—just kind of seeing what everybody could do. Like a vocal gymnastics of sorts. When I finally did get the role in January, that’s when they wrote the songs that I’m still singing. Fantastic songs. From then on, I was involved in several readings. But yeah, the audition process was intense and long.  There was one day—actually the day I met Wesley—where we were there for hours just mixing and matching people.

And I remember auditioning for The Addams Family right when I got out of school. Before I had gotten Rock of Ages. I auditioned for the first reading and did not get the job, and then I auditioned for the next workshop and did not get it, but for the third workshop they called me in again. I was like, Jesus, I’ll come in again but I know you don’t want me—cause they had been kind of clear about…

KR: Oh, they had been clear in their un-clarity.

WT: They had cast some other guys. But I kept on going in and going in, and I was so confused because I keep going in for this show and they don’t seem to want me. But at this point, I was on Broadway, and all of the creative team had come to see me [in Rock of Ages] at various points in the show, and…

KR: He was winning awards…

WT: There was a little more clout now that I was not just a baby out of school, now that I was working on Broadway. So they had a little bit more trust, I guess. I finally got the part after eight auditions. So…

KR: …so the moral of the story is do not give up. [Laughs] Because not getting the first time doesn’t mean you won’t get it eventually.

TOC: If you get called in again, always go.

KR: Exactly.

TOC: Let’s talk a little bit about the show itself. I’ve previously interviewed other people involved, and everybody has been on message about the fact that this is not based on the TV show or the movies, it's based on the [Charles Addams] cartoons. Given that, Krysta, how do you go about building your character knowing that people have expectations about who Wednesday Addams is, and yet this Wednesday Addams is very different than what people know?

KR: Right. Well you know, to be fair, the cartoons were different from the movies were different from the TV show, so there has been an evolution in Wednesday. She hasn’t been the same in every incarnation. This is just one more evolution of her life. She’s been slowly growing throughout history: starting at five, then nine, 13, [now] 18…I’m hoping people are ready for this next phase. There are some expectations about what she looks like, the things that she does, and I can say that we honor her very well. Everyone has been brilliant in their ideas of how we give people what they think they want, and also give them something that they don’t know that they want. I think they will be pleasantly surprised.

TOC: Teenage romance is not exactly something people associate with previous incarnations of The Addams Family. How does that play out within the aesthetic?

WT: Well, it sets up the whole story. The conflict of the whole piece is that Wednesday is now a woman and she’s fallen in love with a "normal" kid. His family is invited over to the mansion, and everything unfolds from there. But there’s actually three different love stories in this show. There’s her parents, my parents, and us. Although the parents have been married for years, it doesn’t mean they're not going through their own kind of drama. It's very much a show about love.

KR: Which is what the Addamses are about. They're about love in their own right.

WT: The Addams family is just so deeply rooted in this family loyalty, love and tradition. They seem to have a positive influence on everyone who comes into their crazy, kooky life. Even though at first it seems peculiar, you might shun it or dismiss it as being weird or not normal, you end up having a pretty beneficial influence.

TOC: Speaking of positive influence, you guys are working with a lot of serious vets here like Nathan, Bebe, Carolee… What lessons have you learned from them so far?

WT: Oh man, what haven’t we learned? [Krysta laughs] We grew up watching these people; to share the same room with them is beyond our wildest dreams.

KR: And when you find out they are just lovely people as well, it’s a treat.

WT: Seriously, Nathan is a master of musical comedy. He’s the tops, and to sit in a room and watch him do what he does best? And to get paid to watch him do what he does is pretty wonderful.

KR: I grew up watching Bebe. She’s one of the reasons I ended up in musical theater in the first place, seeing her in shows.

WT: And Andrew Lippa! His Wild Party is one of the first soundtracks I ever owned. It made me think that I want to start doing musical theater instead of just theater. He is such an actor’s composer. He writes his music completely from intention and…

KR: He is so smart. His lyrics are so smart.

WT: Every character sounds different musically. Like, our characters are more contemporary than the adults, more rock.

KR: There are some vaudeville send ups; there are some beautiful, lyrical songs that are just pleasing to listen to.

WT: Unlike other original work that I’ve worked on, he is not a composer who is just so married to his work. He will mold it around you. He's kind of written his music around us, which is thrilling.

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