New Sandstone Productions show opens this week

Mike Easterling
Director Shawn Kidd talks with a cast member during a break in a rehearsal for "The Addams Family" June 10 at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater.

FARMINGTON — Over the course of the next seven weekends, director Shawn Kidd will have the luxury of watching cast members explore and grow into their roles during the Sandstone Productions presentation of the musical comedy “The Addams Family.”

Kidd acknowledges that most of his work on the production — which opens Thursday June 16 at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater and will be performed a total of 21 times — will come before the curtain rises on opening night. But he still will take a strong interest in what happens with the play as the weeks go by.

“Last year, I attended most of the performances,” he said of his experience directing “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” at the amphitheater, which marked his directorial debut with Sandstone. “But I attended as an audience member. So I would bring my family, and go backstage and say hi to the cast and crew when it was over.

“That was a lot of fun for me, to be able to see the audience react over the course of the show – to see the audience have fun and laugh, and to see the actors begin to relax and have fun with it, too,” he said. “I enjoyed listening to the comments, especially when people didn’t know I was the director.”

Kidd, a Brigham Young University and New Mexico State University product, doesn’t have that same luxury of seeing one of his productions blossom over the course of several weeks when he directs a play at Bloomfield High School, where he has taught music and theater for the last 17 years.

Under those circumstances, he said, a production is staged six or seven times over a single weekend — a much more compact schedule that leaves little time for relaxation or contemplation.

“There’s this big push to get everything done, and then it’s over and you take it down,” he said.

Kidd, and his cast and crew began rehearsals for “The Addams Family” on May 16. The director said he enjoys the accelerated pace that comes with mounting a professional stage production as opposed to a high school production.

“We did ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (at Bloomfield) at the end of April, and we held auditions at the end of January,” he said. “So we were rehearsing two hours a day four days a week.”

Jordan Grant, left, as Uncle Fester and Shane Ventris as Lurch rehearse a scene from "The Addams Family" on June 10 at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater.

But in the case of “The Addams Family,” the cast and crew have been working from 6 to 10 p.m. each weekday since the middle of May.

“It’s kind of fun to do something different and be out of an indoor theater,” Kidd said. “You’re working in a different space with a different focus on the show. In educational theater, you’re trying to train people and still have a lot of fun. Here, there’s more of a focus on the business end. You’re choosing a production that has to be commercially viable. With a high school production, most family members are going to come no matter what show you choose. In this case, you have to find something that will appeal to local residents and maybe some tourists, so you’ve got to be thinking about the business side of it. And at school, I’m used to volunteer labor (for the crew). Here, everybody’s paid.”

Kidd said this will be his first time leading a production of “The Addams Family.”

Geoffrey Johnson wields a sabre during a rehearsal for "The Addams Family" on June 10 at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater.

“We were looking at some different shows for this year, and Georgia Grant, my assistant at Bloomfield, suggested it,” he said.

Kidd wasn’t crazy about the idea at first, having seen the Broadway version and not finding it to his liking. “But we’re doing the touring version, which has significant differences from the Broadway version. It’s a bit more family friendly, and it flows better.”

The play’s message is a good one, Kidd said. Though the Addams family is, by any measure, a weird one — “We have 10 dead people running around the stage during most of the show,” Kidd said — its plot focuses on the romantic relationship between Wednesday Addams (played by Kristin Simmons) and Lucas Beineke (played by Armand Jayne). The Addams family invites the Beineke family to dinner so that everyone can become acquainted, and by the end of the evening, they end up learning a lot from each other, despite their differences.

“And I liked that about the show,” Kidd said.

Antonio Lopez is featured as Pugsley Addams in the Sandstone Productions presentation of "The Adams Family."

The Wednesday Addams in the play is older than the character in the old television series, the director said. In this version, that pigtailed young girl has grown up and gone off to college, triggering the play’s plot when she brings her boyfriend Lucas home to meet her family. But she remains very much a member of the Addams clan, belting out a song about how much she loves her boyfriend while torturing her little brother.

Kidd said Simmons made her Sandstone Productions debut last summer in “Beauty and the Beast.” But the actor portraying her boyfriend, Jayne, will be making his debut with the company, having recently moved to the area from Portland, Ore.

“He did musical theater in high school and enjoyed it,” Kidd said. “He came down and auditioned, and we said, ‘Have we got a role for you.’”

The rest of the cast of 20 is a mix of Sandstone veterans and newcomers, as well. Geoffrey Johnson and Anngela Wakan play Gomez and Morticia Addams, while Antonio Lopez plays Pugsley Addams and Jordan Grant portrays Uncle Fester. Wakan played Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” last year and was excited to hear the company would be doing “The Addams Family” this year, Kidd said.

“After I told people that’s what we were doing, she said, ‘That’s what my family dressed up as for Halloween!’” he said.

Caroline Creyke portrays Grandma in the Sandstone Productions presentation of "The Addams Family."

Shane Ventris plays Lurch, and Caroline Creyke will portray Grandma, a role she is well suited for, Kidd said.

“She’s just a really funny character,” he said. “She’s fun to work with here because she’s got a quirky personality that fits Grandma.”

On the other side, Leigh Black Irvin will portray Lucas Beineke’s mother Alice.

“She’s a really straight-laced character who is sort of caught in this dead-end marriage,” Kidd said. “But there are a lot of things that happen in the show where she gets to vent and rejuvenates her marriage.”

Kevin Rothlisberger, another Sandstone newcomer, plays Alice’s husband Mal. Rothlisberg and Irvin were both in the San Juan College production this spring of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and caught Kidd’s eye then.

“I was excited to get to work with them this summer after seeing their work at the college,” he said.

Kidd said it’s always rewarding to watch a cast come together over the course of rehearsals and learn about each other’s personalities on and off the stage. That’s particularly true in the case of Sandstone Productions shows, he said, which feature a mix of older actors and high school actors.

Working alongside those veterans is an invaluable experience for those students, he said.

“They’re expected to be more independent, to get things done on their own and rely less on me,” Kidd said. “In the high school environment, there’s me and a lot of volunteers that come in, but when we get out here, there’s a separate vocal director. So they have to be responsible to a lot more people. It’s nice to see the students grow that way and become more independent as actors.”

Geoffrey Johnson, center, portrays Gomez Addams during a rehearsal for "The Addams Family" on June 10 at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater.

When those same students take part in their next production at Bloomfield High School the next year, Kidd said he invariably sees a big change in the way they approach their craft.

“They realize, ‘Oh, this is what we could be doing during rehearsals if I come prepared,’” he said. “If they know their lines and come with that stuff already done, there are so many more levels we can get to artistically.”

Another element Kidd enjoys about Sandstone Productions shows is the size of the stage in the outdoor setting and the ability to create eye-catching sets. He recalled the way audience members were wowed by the tower in the Beast’s castle when they entered the amphitheater last year for “Beauty and the Beast,” and he thinks they’ll enjoy what this year’s production has to offer, as well.

“I think there’s some visual impact (to ‘The Addams Family’ set), and I want to see what people’s reaction is this year, too,” he said.

While “The Addams Family” has had a long presence in popular culture between the TV series, the films, the stage production and an animated series, Kidd isn’t worried that local audiences may have become overexposed to it.

Geoffrey Johnson, left, Aaron Bishop and director Shawn Kidd share a laugh during a break in the rehearsal for "The Addams Family" on June 10 at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater.

“People should come to the show,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to make it family friendly. There’s something for everybody. There are some grown-up jokes, and stuff the kids will know. It’s a multi-generational show. People either grew up with the sit-com in black and white or saw the movies or the animated series, so it’s something that appeals to people of all different ages. I hope they know what to expect from the Addams family, because this is kind of complicated for a family that likes the dark side.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: The Sandstone Productions presentation of “The Addams Family”

When: The production opens at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 16. Performances continue at 8 p.m. each Thursday, Friday and Saturday through July 30

Where: The Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater, 5800 College Blvd. in Farmington

Admission: $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, $7 for children. Dinner also is available from Big Belly BBQ

For more information: Call 877-599-3331 or 505-599-1148