For 51 years, the Wits’ End Theatre, known as Western Days Musical Productions until 2004, has regaled spellbound audiences with its shows at the Chatfield Center for the Arts. This year marks their 50th production and, once again, it is going to be a good one.
It’s a classic comedy, known for it’s “snappy” theme song, disembodied hand, and a dark sense of humor. The Addams Family originally started as a comic strip created by Charles Addams (no relation to the fictional Gomez or Morticia) in 1938. In 1964, it was adapted into a TV show and became a franchise with animated shows, movies, a Broadway adaption, and more. And now, The Addams Family is coming to Wits’ End Theatre.
This year’s director, Kathy Keech, has been involved in the theatre business in Chatfield for 50 years, starting when Wits’ End Theatre was known as Western Days Musical Productions. She began her long career at only 10 years old when she acted in her first show. As this year’s play is the theatre’s 50th one, co-producer Laurie Byrne is glad that Kathy was chosen as the guest director, explaining that there was a lot of significance to the choice because of Kathy’s history. “I was very flattered to be asked,” Kathy said.
Out of the 50 shows that Western Days Musical Productions and Wits’ End Theatre has put on over the last 51 years, 49 have been musicals. The Addams Family is no exception with lots of musical numbers, many of which include dancing. “I didn’t know that when I said yes (to directing),” Kathy laughed. Nevertheless, she and the cast were ready for the challenge, learning a new dance every night at rehearsals and not a single dance number was cut from the production.
The cast for The Addams Family is comprised of all adults, with one exception. Ten-year-old Eddie Gorczynski from Chatfield is making his theatre debut playing Pugsley Addams. On his first night of rehearsal, Laurie gave him a pencil, which he still brings every night along with his book, ready to work hard and learn. “He needs to continue with theatre,” Laurie said. Kathy agreed. “He has a wonderful voice,” she said.
Auditions for The Addams Family took place over Memorial Day weekend with rehearsals starting in mid-June. During the last week of rehearsals, the cast and crew are working especially hard to polish things up before the show opens on August 6. The Addams Family show has a lot of humor in it which helps keep things light during rehearsals. “We’re having a lot of fun and I think the audience will too,” Kathy said. “This show is funny.” Despite being over a month into rehearsals, she still finds herself laughing every night. “It’s hilarious,” Laurie agreed.
Laurie first joined Wits’ End Theatre in 2015 as a member of the cast for Cinderella, becoming a member of the board after that. Her co-producer this year, Teresa Schaefer, who happens to be Kathy’s sister, is pulling double duty and playing Grandma Addams. Teresa and Kathy’s brother Chuck Johnson is also part of the show this year, playing Lurch the butler. “They’re taking direction pretty well from their sister,” Kathy laughed. The fact that all three siblings are involved in the theatre is not surprising as their mother, Pat Johnson has either been in the audience or in every show ever produced by Western Days Musical Productions/Wits’ End.
The majority of the 20-person cast is from Chatfield, making it very much a local production. A few are from Rochester, including Kathy. “I’m a Chatfield native,” she said, explaining that she grew up there and the small town will always be her home.
While it’s the theatre’s 51st year, this year is their 50th show. The Addams Family was originally planned for the 2020 season, but when everything shut down due to the pandemic, it had to be canceled. “In March (2020), we decided to wait until April (to make a decision) and then it was clear,” Laurie explained. Even though things were still up in the air this past March and the theatre would be limited to 50% capacity with the restrictions at the time, the board decided to go for it. “We had decided that we were going to do the show even if we had to take a loss,” Laurie said. “We needed to do a show.” Thankfully, the restrictions were lifted and the theatre will be open with 100% capacity during The Addams Family showings.
To celebrate the 50th production, this show will have some special guests. Each night, a hand representing Thing from The Addams Family, will open the curtain to begin the show and each night, Thing will be played by a different person who has had a significant role in the theatre’s 50 years.
It would seem that people are excited for the theatre’s 50th show as the tickets for The Addams Family have been selling well. Laurie noted that the board is already making plans for next year’s show, the name of which will be announced during The Addams Family.
The Addams Family will play at the Potter Auditorium at 7 p.m. on August 6-7 and 12-13, at 2 p.m. on August 8, and at 5 p.m. on August 14. Tickets can be purchased online at witsendtheatre.org or by calling (507) 884-7676.