BY JORDANNA GARLAND
Managing Arts and Culture Editor
A creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky family is coming to Wilmington’s Baby Grand Opera House this week.
Students of The Choir School of Delaware’s (CSD) Musical Theater Summer Camp have been rehearsing for their production of “The Addams Family.” In this musical comedy, the predominantly Black cast of sixty middle schoolers and high schoolers will pull understandings of the nuclear family in a new direction by decentering whiteness and inventing their own authentic story.
Performances will be held on July 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Baby Grand Opera House in Wilmington.
In the musical, the Addamses are met with an unexpected obstacle — Wednesday’s new and normal boyfriend, Lucas. The family becomes concerned about the prospect that their Wednesday might be falling in love, so they plot to put an end to the budding romance. Everything changes once the Addamses and Lucas’ family come together for dinner one evening, when deep secrets of both families are revealed.
In years prior, the group has performed productions that were created for and originated by Black actors. This year, however, as “The Addams Family” is a traditionally white narrative and the performing arts industry is a predominantly white field, artistic director Sophia DiLeo, felt it was important for the CSD to put on this reimagined version to exemplify the themes of “otherness” that are present within the show.
Since its creation, the Addams Family has always subverted the norm. First appearing as a 1930s comic strip, the off-beat and zany family was intended to be a satirical inversion of wealthy, post-war American families.
When having discussions about how to accurately tell this reenvisioning of the narrative, DiLeo consulted with not only her Black colleagues, but her students as well for creative input on how to best represent their own culture.
“There’s so much rich Black culture and intense diversity… why would we not do this show?” DiLeo said. “From style of dance, including step and including hip-hop, and including just different kinds of movements that allude to those experiences, but also vernacular uses of language and shifting some lines to make sure that that’s accurate.”
In her student and professional experience of artistic directing, DiLeo expressed that she has never seen such drive and determination like that of the CSD Musical Theater Summer Camp students.
She stated that she’s proud of their leadership and responsibility as young people and that she hopes the audience can see how the students approach their roles with a level of maturity while also maintaining the quirkiness and weirdness of the production.
One challenge that arose during the rehearsal process for the artistic director was figuring out how to include approximately sixty students in one song and how to make every student feel as though they could contribute. As a solution, DiLeo designed the staging so that for every principal character in the show, there’s a group of “ancestors” that appear onstage with them.
The students were given the freedom to choose a historical Black figure to portray onstage, acting as ancestral figures to the principal roles.
“I designed it so that every principal character like Gomez and Morticia, Wednesday — they all have a group of ancestors,” DiLeo said. “Somebody’s Kobe. Somebody is Tina Turner. There’s all these awesome things that they’re doing and they’re making their own.”
The camp not only prepares students for the annual musical theater productions, but also for academics and a career in the arts through the Young Artists Program.
Young artists ages 14 and up have the opportunity to serve as paid camp leaders for the summer camp, and in the mornings, before the students have their blocking rehearsals and music rehearsals, they assist in academic support, SAT prep and leadership courses. Students learn how to combat different social injustices, how to affirm their identities and how to give back to the community.
DiLeo aids in mentoring the young artists through one-on-one coaching and inviting guests to give masterclasses on various aspects of theater such as singing and acting. The students then apply what they’ve learned to their acting onstage or to their responsibilities as apprentices in the booth or behind the curtain.
“It just makes me realize how much this work matters,” DiLeo said. “One girl came up to me and goes, ‘I’m gonna go home, and I’m gonna tell my mom that I have to do musicals forever.’ And that’s everything.”
According to The Choir School of Delaware’s mission statement, their afterschool program has a strong legacy of serving and engaging the youth of Wilmington through music and mentoring. This past February, The CSD performed their Black History Month concert titled “We Hold These Truths,” which was sung by their predominantly Black intergenerational choir.
As for what’s coming up next for the school, in October, the CSD will have their “Life is a Cabaret!” event, where the choir will sing a collection of Broadway, fan-favorite movie numbers and selections from The Great American Songbook. In April, the CSD will host a festival celebrating a cappella titled “A Cappella Fest!,” featuring the university’s own a cappella group Vocal Point.
DiLeo hopes that audiences come away from this show realizing that weaknesses and differences are essential in embracing individuality and being unapologetically unique.
“To have this opportunity to just think and or to not think and to experience emotions through a character’s story and a protagonist that you can relate to,” DiLeo said. “And obviously ‘The Addams Family’, it’s like ‘How am I relating to this?’ but I actually think the themes of being weird and not fitting and conforming to the normal is something that we all feel.”