After a performance of "The Addams Family," the Broadway musical now playing at the Hippodrome Theatre, a tall, bald, mustachioed man went backstage to greet the cast — the original, the ultimate Gomez Addams, John Astin.
Douglas Sills, who portrays the head of the spooky household in the musical, dropped to the floor and did an elaborate kowtow.
That torch was lit 48 years ago, when the "The Addams Family" series debuted, fleshing out the slightly spooky, thoroughly contented characters created by New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams.
The television series ran only for two seasons, totaling just 64 episodes, but never really disappeared. Reruns kept the characters and their quirks alive for successive generations, creating a reservoir of appreciation ripe for harvesting by the creators of the musical.
For many people, "The Addams Family" continues to conjure up the image of the Baltimore-born Astin as a twinkly-eyed, debonair Gomez, married to the darkly sexy, note-perfect Morticia of Carolyn Jones; Jackie Coogan as a genial Uncle Fester; and Ted Cassidy as the just-shy-of-rigor-mortis butler Lurch (Cassidy often provided the disembodied hand of Thing, too).
Although there have also been movie adaptations in the 1990s — two commercial releases starring Raul Julia as Gomez and Angelica Houston as Morticia, one quick-to-video effort with Tim Curry and Daryl Hannah — nothing has ever really overshadowed the TV series.
Today, only Astin, who turns 82 this month, and three other performers from the show are alive — Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax, who played the children, Wednesday and Pugsley; and Felix Silla, who occupied the hair-covered mass known as Cousin Itt.
"The Addams Family" aired in the days before contracts automatically came with residuals, so the actors did not exactly get rich form the series. If Astin retains any bitterness over that, or the way that Addams-related projects over the years typically ignored the creators of the roles, he hides it well.
There seemed to be no trace of bittersweetness, let alone bitterness, when Astin attended the Hippodrome performance of the musical-ized Addams characters. It was his second visit to the show; he caught it on Broadway as well. Several changes have been made to it since then. The national touring version includes a new angle for the plot and several new songs.
"It is less episodic than the first version," Astin said. "That's got to have a salutary effect. The first one was an enjoyable evening, but it turned into what seemed to be a series of vaudeville turns."
The slimmed-down staging for the touring production impressed him, especially a charming scene involving Uncle Fester and the moon. "I loved the creative way they handle that now," Astin said. "I love when they keep it simple."
In the theater, before the performance and during intermission, Astin graciously acknowledged requests for autographs. He's still everyone's favorite Gomez.
"There has been so much exposure of those 64 episodes that when the news about a musical was first announced, half the people who stopped me in the street thought I was involved," Astin said. "No matter how many other versions there have been, I still get recognized. I don't look like I did then, but they still recognize my voice or the strange look on my face."
Strange? A better description would be inviting, with just a hint of mischievousness behind those still very lively eyes.
Astin has never stopped being active. Locally, he has become particularly well-known for performances as Edgar Allan Poe.
This weekend finds him back in the spotlight, appearing in the world premiere of "Legion" by rising playwright Nicky Glossman, a production of the Johns Hopkins University Theatre Arts and Studies Program, which Astin directs.
The final performance is Sunday afternoon in the recently named John Astin Theatre in the Merrick Barn, an honor recognizing Astin's teaching, acting, directing and rejuvenating of the theater program at JHU since 2001. His connection to the university goes back further — he earned his B.A. in drama there in 1952.
Astin has done a lot of things since "The Addams Family" went off the air in 1966, but he has resigned himself to the fact that, for many people, all that other work is eclipsed by the relatively brief period when he was patriarch of a wonderfully odd assemblage.
John Astin is still everyone's favorite Gomez Addams
While other versions continue to take center stage, the original, John Astin is still known for being a little kooky, mysterious and spooky.
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