For 51 years, the Wits’ End Theater, known as Western Days Musical Productions until 2004, has delighted entranced audiences with its shows at the Chatfield Center for the Arts. This year marks their 50th production and, once again, it will be the right one.
It’s a classic comedy, known for its “catchy” theme song, disembodied hand, and dark sense of humor. The Addams Family originally started as a comic book created by Charles Addams (unrelated 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 adaptation, etc. And now, The Addams Family arrives at the Wits’ End Theater.
This year’s director, Kathy Keech, has been involved in the theater business in Chatfield for 50 years, from when Wits’ End Theater was known as Western Days Musical Productions. She started her long career at just 10 years old when she starred in her first show. As this year’s play is the theater’s 50th, co-producer Laurie Byrne is happy that Kathy was chosen as guest director, explaining that this choice was very important because of Kathy’s story. “I was very flattered to be invited,” said Kathy.
Of the 50 shows that Western Days Musical Productions and Wits’ End Theater have put on over the past 51 years, 49 have been musicals. The Addams Family is no exception with many musical numbers, many of which include dancing. “I didn’t know that when I said yes (to the realization),” Kathy laughed. Nonetheless, she and the cast were up to the challenge, learning a new dance every night during rehearsals and no dance numbers were cut from production.
The casting for The Addams Family is made up of all adults, with one exception. Eddie Gorczynski, 10, of Chatfield is making his theater debut playing Pugsley Addams. On his first night of rehearsal, Laurie gave him a pencil, which he always brings every night with his book, ready to work hard and learn. “He has to continue with the theater,” 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 final week of rehearsals, the cast and crew work especially hard to polish things up before the show opens on August 6. The Addams Family the show has a lot of humor that helps keep things light during rehearsals. “We’re having a lot of fun and I think the audience will too,” said Kathy. “This show is funny.” Despite more than a month of rehearsals, she still finds herself laughing every night. “It’s hilarious,” Laurie agreed.
Laurie first joined Wits’ End Theater in 2015 as a cast member for Cinderella, later becoming a member of the board of directors. Her co-producer this year, Teresa Schaefer, who happens to be Kathy’s sister, is duplicating and playing Grandma Addams. Teresa and Kathy’s brother Chuck Johnson is also on the show this year, playing Lurch the Butler. “They follow their sister’s directions pretty well,” said Kathy with a laugh. The fact that all three siblings are involved in the theater is not surprising as their mother, Pat Johnson, has been either in the audience or in every show ever produced by Western Days Musical Productions / Wits’ End.
The majority of the 20-person cast comes from Chatfield, making it a very local production. A few are from Rochester, including Kathy. “I am originally from Chatfield,” she said, explaining that she grew up there and the small town will always be her home.
While this is the theater’s 51st year, this year is their 50th show. The Addams Family was originally scheduled for the 2020 season, but when it all came to a halt 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 on hold last March and the theater would be limited to 50% capacity with the restrictions at the time, the board decided to go. “We had decided that we were going to do the show even if we were to suffer a loss,” Laurie said. “We needed to put on a show. Fortunately, the restrictions have been lifted and the theater will be open at 100% capacity for The Addams Family demonstrations.
To celebrate the 50th production, this show will have special guests. Each night, a hand representing Thing of The Addams Family, will open the curtain to start the show and each night Thing will be performed by a different person who has played a significant role in the theater’s 50 years.
It would seem that people are excited about the 50th performance of the theater, as tickets for The Addams Family sell 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.