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Crista Moore in The Addams Family

In "The Addams Family", Crista Moore plays Alice Beineke, the nice, normal lady whose son dates the ghoulish family's daughter. (photo by Jeremy Daniel

We’ll have a real good time, yes sir!

I’m more than eager to see The Addams Family when it opens at Shea’s next week. For one, I’m looking forward to seeing the major changes that have been made to improve the show for the national tour: new songs in, old songs out, greater focus on Gomez and Morticia, dopey squid climax gone. As much as that, however, it will be a treat to see Crista Moore again. The actress is playing Alice Beineke, a nice, normal lady whose life is tossed into turmoil when her son begins to date Wednesday Addams, the daughter of the kooky ooky Addams clan. Buffalonians may recall Moore for her leading performance at Studio Arena Theatre in Jeffry Denman’s Dancing in the Dark, an original musical about one man’s infatuation with Fred Astaire. Some may also know her for her performance as the title character in Gypsy in the 1989

Broadway production starring Tyne Daly as Mama Rose. Moore received her first Tony Award nomination for Gypsy; her second would come in 1996 for her starring role as Susan in the musical version of Big, which boasted a glorious score by Buffalo’s David Shire.

Moore’s work is always meticulous and exciting. I also saw her in the off-Broadway revival of Rags in 1991; as Wallis Simpson in a 1997 musical called Only a Kingdom, about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, Virginia in 1997; on Broadway as Zelda in Noel Coward’s Waiting in the Wings, with Lauren Bacall; and once, standing outside Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre with Julian Gamble, another popular Studio Arena alumnus, while the two were “standing by” for the leads in Tom Stoppard’s play, Jumpers.

Speaking on the telephone from Toronto where The Addams Family is playing previous to Buffalo, Moore laughs at the Jumpers reference. “Standbys” are typically actors of note in their own right, who show up at each performance in case the star suddenly can’t go on. Had Australian star Essie Davis taken ill, Moore would have leapt into action.

“I never got to go on in Jumpers,” says Moore. “But I did get to work with the director, David Leveaux—which doesn’t always happen for the standby—and he was wonderful. And I did get to meet Tom Stoppard, and he saw me work! I’ve done a lot of musicals, but I was glad to be involved in a straight play.”

In a career of thrilling highlights, having Tom Stoppard watch her rehearse is actually a minor stop.

Legendary playwright/director Arthur Laurents looms large in Moore’s career. Laurents, who died of pneumonia at the age of 93 earlier this year, transformed Broadway as the author of the scripts for West Side Story and Gypsy. He directed Broadway productions of both shows, as well as such other high-profile projects as the original La Cage aux Folles and I Can Get it For You Wholesale, which marked the Broadway debut of young Barbra Streisand.

“I loved Arthur, and I still haven’t gotten over his passing,” says Moore. “I keep thinking, if only his partner [Tom Hatcher] hadn’t died, or if only he hadn’t gotten pneumonia, he’d still be alive and working. He was just so vital. The first show I did when I arrived in New York was Birds of Paradise, and Arthur directed it, taking over for [noted television director] David Trainer, after two weeks,” she recalls. Birds of Paradise is about a group of amateur actors staging a musical version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. “When Arthur came in, we were thrilled to be working with him, but also terrified! Would he fire us all? We didn’t know.”

Moore reveals that she was especially intimidated because everyone else in a company that included Barbara Walsh and Donna Murphy had Broadway experience. Moore didn’t.

“I was very young and I didn’t even have any formal theater education,” she says. “I’d studied dance since I was a little girl, and I had my own a la carte education, but I felt like the onion in the petunia patch!”

Moore needn’t have worried.

“Arthur started talking about one moment in the first scene of the show. He described it in glowing terms. He said it was ‘alive and shimmering,’ and then he said, ‘It ends with ‘Hello!’ Well I realized he was talking about my first entrance and the little speech I had! From then on, my confidence grew and I worked my heart out for him!”

Moore’s biggest break arguably came when she was cast in the wildly successful revival of Gypsy starring Tyne Daly. The show tells the Depression-era story of how young Louise Hovac goes from being a shy, innocent girl, in the shadow of her talented younger sister and under the thumb of her monstrous mother, to become Gypsy Rose Lee, the biggest star in all burlesque.

“At first,” says Moore, “Arthur did not think I was right for Gypsy. I was young and he knew me to be shy, appropriate for young Louise, but not for the stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee. For the audition we were to sing ‘Let Me Entertain You,’ twice. First, as the young innocent girl, and then we were allowed to leave the room, change clothes, and sing the song again as a burlesque number. I worked out a way to do the number so the transition would happen in front of them. I put my hair up under a cap, and wore a man’s jacket, and tights and leggings and ankle boots. I began tentatively. As I sang, I caught the eye of the casting agent. She looked away with discomfort, as if I was having a bad audition. I thought, ‘Perfect! That’s where I need them to be.’ And then I took off the cap and shook out my hair and finished the number like Gypsy Rose Lee. Arthur was delighted, and I got the job!”

While others remember an irascible man with a large ego, Moore remembers Laurents as a kind, almost grandfatherly figure.

“Being with him was like being in a university master class, and it connected you to a golden age of Broadway,” she says. “He had so much to give, and he was wonderful with children. Once when we were doing Gypsy, the girl playing Baby June dropped a line and the other girls tormented her, telling her that Arthur Laurents was in the audience and she was in big trouble. By the time Arthur came back stage, she was trembling. Well, he went straight to her and said, ‘Congratulations! You are now a professional actress. That happens to everyone!’”

While the Maltby and Shire musical, Big, based on the Tom Hanks film, was not a hit, it does hold happy memories for Moore.

“The failure of that show had nothing to do with the score,” she notes. “Maltby and Shire’s work was beautiful. I loved my songs. ‘Stars’ was a late addition to the show and I adored singing it. David is a very gentle and sensitive man, and he felt that he had let us down, but he hadn’t. The music for that show is wonderful.”

Moore is relishing her Addams Family experience.

“Our director, Jerry Zaks, reminds me of Arthur Laurents in so many ways. He has a clear vision and knows how to get what he wants. This tour has been so much more than a recreation of Broadway. They’ve been able to refine the show and make it what it always should have been. My role is actually much smaller than it was on Broadway, as it should be. The show is not The Beineke Family, after all; it’s The Addams Family, and the focus is now much more clearly on those familiar characters. While we were preparing the show in New Orleans, we were getting new pages every day.”

Have the revisions worked? Word so far is that they have.

“I’m glad to say audiences are loving it,” says Moore. “It is a delightful show, and especially in worrisome times, if we can provide that happy experience, that’s great.”

The Addams Family will play Shea’s for one week only.