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"The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy" director talks with KRWG Public Media

Lisa Hermanson, assistant professor of theatre at NMSU and director of "The Addams Family"
Scott Brocato
Lisa Hermanson, assistant professor of theatre at NMSU and director of "The Addams Family"

“The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy”, opens Friday for a two-weekend run at the Mark and Stephanie Medoff Theatre in the ASNMSU Center for the Arts. Scott Brocato spoke with Lisa Hermanson, NMSU’s assistant professor of theatre and the director of “The Addams Family”, about the musical.

SCOTT BROCATO:

Let's talk about "The Addams Family”—

LISA HERMANSON:

Yay!

SCOTT BROCATO:

(laughs). What is it about in terms of its story? Everyone's familiar with the TV show and the subsequent movies. What is this one going to be about?

Mike Cook

LISA HERMANSON:

So this story follows the Addams Family that we know and love and have seen in pop culture for decades, including Netflix's recent series “Wednesday.” We have Gomez Addams, the patriarch of the family, who loves his wife, Morticia; and everything is running fine until he learns that Wednesday has fallen in love with a, quote-unquote, “normal” boy. And she is engaged to this “normal” boy, wants to bring him over for dinner with his parents, and begs her father to not tell Morticia. Gomez has never kept a secret from Morticia before, ever, so he finds himself caught between these two very important women in his life as we navigate the story of what happens at that dinner that evening and all the events that follow as these two families try and rediscover, or discover for the first time, what it means to be in love and love your family and come together as a new family in a new direction. If they make it that far.

SCOTT BROCATO:

Well, you came aboard at NMSU in 2019.

LISA HERMANSON:

Yes, I did.

SCOTT BROCATO:

And in fact, I worked with you, I think, on your first musical—full disclosure here-- was A Christmas Carol the first one as music director?

LISA HERMANSON:

It was! it was, yes!

SCOTT BROCATO:

So this is your first undertaking as a director of a musical. How has that been? What have been some of the challenges?

Cast rehearsing "The Addams Family" at the ASNMSU Center for the Arts
Lisa Hermanson
Cast rehearsing "The Addams Family" at the ASNMSU Center for the Arts

LISA HERMANSON:

Gosh...well, being music director is certainly in my wheelhouse. It's a very unique skill set I have. I've done it for years. I'm very familiar with the territory there, and it is fun. But directing is a different level of fun and fulfillment and enjoyment that I have had. It is certainly...I wouldn't say it's more work, but it's a different work, because as music director, my responsibilities are for teaching the actors how to sing; finding the musicians; rehearsing with the musicians; and then making sure that the music part of the story is good and ready to go; and usually performing live every night with the performance as well. So that's just one aspect that goes into a musical.

As director, I am in charge of overseeing not only that aspect, but everything else. So checking in with our set designer and how that is going, costumes, lights...

SCOTT BROCATO:

Choreography...

LISA HERMANSON:

Yes, working with our choreographer. Attending all of the rehearsals and doing all of the blocking and making sure that everybody is united in this cohesive story that we're telling, and that we're all on the same page. And it's my job to, as director, ultimately represent the audience and what the audience is going to come and see. So everybody--every department head, music director, set designer, costume designer--all of those folks have their own individual departments that they're responsible for. And then the director is sort of the unifying aspect who comes together and says OK, what are your ideas? Here's how they fit with where I think the story is going. How can we work together to make this a cohesive, collaborative story where your artistic vision is also at play, but we're all working together?

Cast rehearsing "The Addams Family" onstage
Lisa Hermanson
Cast rehearsing "The Addams Family" onstage

SCOTT BROCATO:

Well, your music director for this is Peyton Womble. Has it been hard for you to hand over the reins?

LISA HERMANSON:

In some ways, only because I find myself conducting along with the music and I have to stop and go nope, that's Peyton's job. And there have been times I thought, well, should I just sit on my hands, so that I’m not conducting the actors and the musicians? (laughs)

SCOTT BROCATO:

Old habits die hard.

LISA HERMANSON:

Old habits die hard! But Peyton's fantastic, and I've had multiple conversations with them helping them find musicians and making some small music adjustments as we go through the rehearsal, because that does still fall under my umbrella of making sure the story is being told musically. But for the most part, Peyton is just a fantastic musician. They wear my assistant music director on Godspell, which I was music director of last year. And they have a really good ear for music, great sense of their own artistry. So I've really been honored to just shepherd them through this process.

But I've had multiple conversations with them where I say, hey, I also am really familiar with what you're working on. So if you would like a guiding hand or advice, I am definitely here for you. But I'm really cognizant of, in this point in time, I'm wearing my director hat. So I'm not going to step in and correct music director things, unless you ask me for it, or unless I feel that it's impacting this story overall. And they've been super great to work with.

SCOTT BROCATO:

Well, one big thing this has, “The Addams Family”, is a full 14-member orchestra. Christmas Carol had prerecorded music. This has an orchestra. How has that affected the cast and crew? Has it made a big difference?

LISA HERMANSON:

Yes, absolutely. For rehearsal itself--we've been in rehearsal since mid-February, so just under two months at this point--rehearsal itself, we were using prerecorded rehearsal tracks. And playing along, singing along, and dancing to those tracks. We've had the live orchestra and rehearsal twice now, and they will be with us for the shows that the audiences will come see. And there is just something so beautiful and amazing about the energy that live orchestra brings. It has changed the actors’ performance. It's changed their character. It’s really elevated the story in a different way, which is one of the beautiful things about live theater as opposed to watching it through a screen. You're in the room watching it happen. And so just the knowledge and the tangible experience of being in the room with actors singing, making character choices, dancing live in front of your eyes...And then the music is enhancing and embracing that other sense, which is our ears. So we're not only just seeing it, but we're hearing all of this work happen live. And it's just an indescribable, full surround moment that you don't get with prerecorded tracks, so it's really beautiful.

SCOTT BROCATO:

Talk about the American Southwest Theatre Company’s 2024-25 Seat of Honor fundraising campaign. What is that?

LISA HERMANSON:

So the American Southwest Theatre Company is a nonprofit company that is really our sister company for the NMSU Theatre Arts. And we're so lucky to have them because they come along and do fundraising that helps support students directly, help support students in their pursuit of theater arts. ASTC does fundraising for student scholarships; they help send students on trips, including to Broadway to see what the top, top level of theater is over there. They also pay for guests to come in from film and regional theater, national theatre, and even from Broadway itself. They bring in those guest artists so students can have those experiences, which is really important in a small town like Las Cruces, where the nearest professional-level theater doing its own original work is three hours away in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. So ASTC's ability to help us fund bringing in those external artists to support students is amazing.

All of that said, what ASTC is doing with the Seat of Honor campaign is that they are selling the right to buy a seat in our theater, our beautiful 450 seat theater. And when you buy a seat, you get your name on the back of it on a little plaque that will stay there and say that this plaque, this seat was purchased by Scott Brocato or Lisa Hermanson, you get your name on it, and those funds will go directly to all of the things that I mentioned and many more in supporting students.

Set piece from The Addams Family
Lisa Hermanson
Set piece from The Addams Family

SCOTT BROCATO:

Well, "The Addams Family” will open officially Friday night at 7:30 at the ASNMSU Center for the Arts. It will run this weekend and next weekend. Where can people get tickets?

LISA HERMANSON:

Yeah, so people can get tickets directly at our website, which is theatre.nmsu.edu. You can also come directly to our building. We are the Center for the Arts on the corner of University and Espina directly across from Starbucks. You can come there one hour before the show is when the box office will be open, and we're also open most of the afternoon on Friday and weekday afternoons from. 3:00 to 5:00.

SCOTT BROCATO:

Lisa Hermanson, director of "The Addams Family”, thank you for coming in and speaking with KRWG Public Media about this.

LISA HERMANSON:

Thank you so much for having me! This is great.

Scott Brocato has been an award-winning radio veteran for over 35 years. He has lived and worked in Las Cruces since 2016, and you can hear him regularly during "All Things Considered" from 4 pm-7 pm on weekdays. Off the air, he is also a local actor and musician, and you can catch him rocking the bass with his band Flat Blak around Las Cruces and El Paso.