Leap of Fate:
Professional opera singer (and native San Diegan) Tom Corbeil makes the move from arias to “Addams Family”
By Donnie Matsuda
Tom Corbeil is not afraid to take on new ventures.
For the past eight months, the 34-year old opera singer – who has tackled such roles as Leporello in “Don Giovanni,” Colline in “La Boheme,” and Don Basilio in “The Barber of Seville” – has been touring the country as Lurch, the larger-than-life butler in the first national tour of The Addams Family. It’s a bit of a stretch (pun intended) for him to be stepping into such big shoes and the physical demands of the role required him to extend his 6’6’’ frame to a towering 6’11’’ with the aid of lifts in his shoes. On top of that, he doesn’t get to showcase his powerful pipes, but instead has learned to communicate by mostly grunting, grumbling, and hitting one single note – a low E-flat – that resonates well with his shambling but mostly silent character.
Corbeil doesn’t so much mind because he’s always up for giving his booming bass-baritone a rest and this tour (which creeps into the San Diego Civic Theatre starting this Tuesday for a week long run through June 3rd) is a great way for him to break into the world of Broadway musicals – one giant step at a time. Here, he’s surrounded by a bizarre and beloved cast of musical talents and Corbeil (a newly-born Broadway baby himself) says he’s learned a lot just by watching them work their macabre magic each night on stage. His ghoulishly gloomy co-stars include: Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) as Gomez, Sara Gettelfinger (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Nine, Seussical the Musical) as Morticia, Cortney Wolfson (Les Misérables, The Addams Family on B’way) as Wednesday, Blake Hammond (Sister Act, Billy Elliot, Hairspray, The Lion King) as Uncle Fester, and Pippa Pearthree (Boeing Boeing, Titanic) as Grandma.
Before going Gothic, Corbeil - who has an undergraduate degree in statistics from the University of California at Davis and a master's degree in Old Testament studies at Regent College in Vancouver - worked for the U.S. Navy as a data analyst in San Diego and joined the chorus at San Diego Opera, which started him on his modern-day musical journey. He soon quit his day job, and within the next few seasons, Corbeil practiced his craft as a young artist at Opera North, Palm Beach Opera, Florida Grand Opera and Santa Fe Opera (among others), spent a summer in the Merola Opera Center at San Francisco Opera, and made his New York debut with Gotham Chamber Opera singing the role of Enrico in Haydn’s “L’isola disabitata.”
Now, he’s taking a break from the world of opera and indulging his inner-Addams. (Although his is scheduled to return to the Canadian Opera Company for “La boheme” and the Florida Grand Opera for “La sonnambula” and will make debuts with Alabama Symphony in Handel’s “Messiah” and Michigan Opera Theater in Rossini’s “Il barbiere di Siviglia” in future seasons.) For now, amid a crazy whirlwind tour schedule, Corbeil had time to escape his butler duties and answer some questions about how he constructed the character of Lurch, his take on The Addams Family score, and what he’s most looking forward to as he returns to his hometown of San Diego.
DONNIE: Where did you grow up in San Diego? Did you know at an early age that you were blessed with a professional-grade bass-baritone?
TOM: I grew up just north of downtown San Diego, near the Mission Hills neighborhood. I sang quite a bit as a kid, in church and in school, but I didn’t ever think I’d end up using my voice to pay the bills!
DONNIE: How did you get involved with the first national tour of “The Addams Family”? It seems like quite a change (and a huge leap) from your career as an accomplished opera singer.
TOM: It’s a funny story actually – the role of Lurch came up in several disparate casual conversations with friends (and a few strangers) in San Diego, Miami, Toronto and New York – all at completely different times. After about the fourth or fifth occurrence, I thought maybe it was time to look into it and see if I might be able to get an audition.
|Tom Corbeil transforms from handsome hunk to lanky Lurch. Photo by Lori Kane for timesunion.com.|
DONNIE: Tell me more about the character you play, Lurch. How did you prepare to tackle this role of the family’s towering, hulking butler?
TOM: Lurch is a tricky character to pin down – it can be very easy just to try to imitate performers who have played him in the past, whether that’s in the TV show, the movies or the Broadway production of the musical. In the rehearsal process, we went back to the original Addams cartoons from the New Yorker and looked at Lurch’s posture and demeanor to provide a foundation from which to build the rest of his character. It was definitely a great challenge, but the result is something that is much more personal for me while still adhering to traditional expectations about this iconic character.
DONNIE: How well does the concept of the Addams Family translate from TV screen to the stage? Is the musical version as creepy and kooky as we would expect?
TOM: Honestly, I think we exceed what most audience members expect when they enter the theater. The artistic team that put this show together did a phenomenal job of creating the Addams Family ambiance (if you will), and the finished product is just as hilarious as it is heart-warming.
DONNIE: How would you describe the Andrew Lippa composed score? I’m assuming it’s a far cry from the astounding arias or beautiful ballads you are used to singing.
TOM: The score is really beautifully done, actually – with pop-driven melodies for the younger characters, tango-inspired harmonies and rhythms for Gomez, a great classic Broadway number for Morticia, and lots of really gorgeous, lyrical lines throughout.
DONNIE: How has the show been received by audiences across America? Any surprises? Any funny stories?
TOM: We’ve all been really happy with the response we’ve been getting – there’s nothing like watching an audience of thousands rise to their feet after the final notes have been played. And of course there are some great moments that we laugh about backstage – I’ve been accidentally punched in the face a few times!
DONNIE: What are you most looking forward to as the show tours through your hometown of San Diego?
TOM: It’s always great to be home. I’m mostly looking forward to seeing my family and friends. And the sunshine isn’t going to be taken for granted, I promise you that!
DONNIE: Any more aspirations for breaking out of your comfort zone once the tour is over? Ballroom dancing or Cirque-inspired acrobatics, perhaps?
TOM: Well, I started my singing career after working as a data analyst in Point Loma for three years. So, who knows? Maybe I’ll move on to something completely different in a few years.
For more information about The Addams Family at Broadway San Diego, visit: http://www.broadwaysd.com/theaddamsfamily.php
For more information about The Addams Family tour, visit: http://www.theaddamsfamilymusicaltour.com/