Sara Gettelfinger On Bringing Morticia To Life On Tour With THE ADDAMS FAMILY
Sara Gettelfinger may have a resume that other actresses covet-now starring as the mysterious, intriguing, maybe even a little bit frightening Morticia Addams in the national tour of The Addams Family, she's been on Broadway in A Free Man of Color, Seussical the Musical, The Boys from Syracuse, Nine and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and she's toured in Fosse and 101 Dalmatians-but, truth be told, the highlight of her resume for me, at least, is a stint on the storied, now lamented and defunct, CBS soap opera Guiding Light.
When I tell her that, she laughs heartily, maybe even raucously, recalling her time on the daytime staple: "My character on Guiding Light was an evil bellhop," she says. "I was on staff at a hotel, paid to cause trouble for two couples having romantic interludes at the hotel. It was so much fun, I can't help but laugh when I talk about it!"
And laugh she does, in a completely infectious and thoroughly genuine way that makes her all the more appealing and charming. In fact, it's that generous peal of laughter that completely disarms you, drawing you into any conversation with Sara Gettelfinger that will leave you feeling as if you're old friends sharing war stories and gossip about her time on the stage. Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, she's a true Southerner, which is exemplified by her ease in telling a story, her ample wit at the ready, and the warmth that radiates even through the magic of modern technology via a telephone conversation.
That she is so charming comes as no surprise to anyone lucky enough to have seen her onstage in any of the roles that have made her presence felt in the theater: Her stage presence is palpable, her ability to hone in on any character's attributes in order to illuminate them nothing short of remarkable. Quite frankly, when you walk away from a Sara Gettelfinger performance (whether onstage or on a soap opera), chances are you'll find yourself-as did I-feeling like you've just fallen a little bit in love with her.
When we talked, it was the morning after opening night in Chicago for the national touring company of The Addams Family and a week away from the company's Nashville stand at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (the Louisville native admits this is her first time to perform in Music City despite her family's annual trips to Nashville for days at Opryland USA and evenings at The Grand Ole Opry). The Chicago opening, she happily reported, "was great…it was wonderful to be reengaging after being off for two weeks and the show went well."
After taking over the role of Cruella DeVille from Rachel York in the national tour of 101 Dalmatians, and now assaying the role of the lithe and lovely, if deathly serious, Morticia Addams, Gettelfinger may be cornering the role on musical theater villainesses: "I will take that, happily," she says. "My dream is to tackle all the Disney villainesses at some point in my career."
For now, she's content to play the matriarch of The Addams Family and to bring to audiences across the United States and Canada a show about a "bizarre family" that's not so unlike their own.
"The thing that's so great about The Addams Family, the reason people love it, is that it's this bizarre family who allow you to go into their world and to experience something that's very much a departure from your own life," she suggests. "To escape from what the everyday world is. But when you get into their life, you discover they are very relatable, they are just trying to stay true to themselves-and that's what makes The Addams Family so popular. You're invited to go on a journey as far as the fantasy allows you. You'll see parts of yourself and your own family in the humor, [so] it really resonates deeply with audiences."
The role of Morticia, for which she has received glowing notices on tour, proves more of a challenge than just playing a two-dimensional character originally created for The New Yorker by cartoonist Charles Addams. "It's interesting as far as the nuts and bolts as the role is structured," she explains. "It's a dream come true for me: Morticia is very dark, dry and statuesque. And there's a lot of joy in exploring the less-is-more sensibility because of her stillness and her dryness."
Morticia offers further challenges to Gettelfinger-or any actress, really-because of the multi-dimensional comic/dramatic/musical arc provided her in the musical created by the stellar Broadway team of Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and Andrew Lippa.
"Morticia has fabulous scene work, character study and terrific songs and the opportunity to do some great dancing," Gettelfinger contends. "It's a role that allows you to flex all your muscles…as far as maintaining and providing what people expect-and then finding the balance to bring the qualities of Morticia that people are expecting to see, her carriage, her look, to bring some authenticity to it and to give it your own interpretation."
Touring with the show-the very notion of moving from one city to the next-helps keep the material fresh, her performance evolving as the tour continues.
"It definitely helps to keep it fresh to go from city to city-just in the actual physical relocation week after week. You're dealing with a different backstage area, a different set of crew members, different wardrobe folks…you always have to be on your toes," she explains. "When you enter into a new city, meeting new artists you're going to be working with, it really does provide a new challenge-and playing a very specific character like Morticia allows you to focus on the element of less-is-more in your performance."
Playing the acerbic, dry-witted Morticia offers Gettelfinger a unique challenge, particularly when you consider that the character performs an enormously intricate and challenging dance number at the end of Act Two, showing off the actress' skill and finesse as a musical theater artist. "I've yet to have the feeling of 'oh, I've got this, I don't need to worry; I've got this under my belt," she laughs.
It's that never-say-die attitude, the knowledge that complacency is detrimental to any actor's connection with their audience that allows Gettelfinger to flourish onstage. "I continually remind myself that in the climate that we're in, I'm very grateful to have a job. In the last five years-I don't know if it's because I'm in my mid-30s or that I'm exploring different types of roles-I've realized how lucky I am to have a job, to have a really good job. It brings an awareness that every night is the audience's first time at the show and you cannot take that job for granted. The audience deserves your 110 percent at every performance."
It's Gettelfinger's "own interpretation" that has typified her onstage work thus far, winning over critics and audiences alike. Her burgeoning resume boasts some of the most sought-after roles in musical theater and each, she maintains, has given her the chance to showcase her talents, while challenging her as an actress.
"I would definitely say the experience of doing Nine was a mark on the map for me," she muses. "I started out in the ensemble and even though I was thrilled with the opportunity to understudy a role, moving into the role of Carla was remarkable for me…because of the material, the caliber of the people I was onstage with, the fact that our director David Leveaux was paying such close attention to what everyone did once they stepped onstage-it was incredibly specific and incredibly involved. When the original cast ended up leaving-it was unconventional how it happened-I was able to take over for Jane Krakowski. 'Carla' is one of the most beautiful roles I've been given the opportunity to play, really amazing.
"After that, some of the highlights that followed for me was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, because I was literally onstage for 11 minutes, but it was one of the first times I was given the opportunity to play a role that wasn't the other woman, the whore, the jilted lover…it was crazy, wacky and funny…and it let me exercise my comedic skills with an incredible cast and incredible creative team."
From there, Gettlefinger moved on to Grey Gardens, acting opposite the legendary Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Smith in the musical's off-Broadway run. Yet when the show made the transfer to Broadway, Gettelfinger was replaced by Erin Davie; yet she holds no ill feelings about her time with Grey Gardens: "When it transferred to Broadway, I was let go from the, but I look back on that experience as one of the bravest steps I've ever taken, stepping out of my comfort zone. For me, it was a really wonderful opportunity," she recalls. "I'd earned enough trust at the time for the creative team to take a chance on me during the show's off-Broadway run."
"I've really treasured the experience," she says, "even with the challenges. To share the space with Christine and Mary Louise was really one of the highlights of my career so far."
The Addams Family, A New Musical. Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Score by Andrew Lippa. Presented by the national touring company at Andrew Jackson Hall, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville. January 3-8. For details on the company's TPAC run, visit www.tpac.org. For more information about the show, go to www.theaddamsfamilymusical.com.