Monday, June 22, 2015

"The Addams Family"


The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy
Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice (Book); Andrew Lippa (Music & Lyrics); Based on Characters Created by Charles Addams

Guided to our seats by a giant, grunting Lurch with the help of his friend Thing (literally a boxed-in hand with perky personality), we as audience are more than ready to see our favorite ghoulish family from black-and-white TV days.  As soon as the band starts the familiar tune, everyone is snapping fingers at the appropriate rests and waiting for the curtain to part.  And then there they are -- Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Grandma, Uncle Fester, Cousin It, and Lurch – all lined up in that family portrait we remember so well, singing a rousing and fun When You’re an Addams.  From that moment on, the excellent cast and intimate staging of San Jose’s The Stage ensures the audience is in a complete spell and trance for an evening of laughs and delights with The Addams Family.

Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice weave a simple tale known well to stage audiences (think La Cage au Faux, e.g.).  A family most would not consider ‘normal’ (the Addams) is visited by one of the most boring and normal of all families (the Beinekes) on the occasion of two of their kids (Wednesday Addams and Lucas Beineke) somehow falling in love and deciding to get married.  The result is shock, chaos, some potion drinking that loosens things up, and important “ah-ha’s” on all parts of what “family” really means.  From the beginning, we all know the ending will be happy; but to get there, we get to explore notions of normality while laughing all the way.  As Morticia reminds us, “Normal is an illusion: What is normal to the spider is a calamity to the fly.”

In many ways, the story is secondary to the characters themselves; and this Addams family seems to have stepped right out of the TV screen (or for older patrons, the Sunday Funnies) onto our stage.  Each is in appearance, voice, and demeanor much like we all remember and want them to be.  Johnny Moreno is the debonair, Spanish Gomez Addams with the right Latin accent and romantic moves.  He is appropriately shorter than his pencil-slender, angular-faced beauty of a wife Morticia (the outstanding Allison F. Rich) whose wide-open, intense eyes that never blink pierce intensely all the way to the theatre’s back row.  Together, their chemistry is electric, especially in a climatic duet Live Before We Die, leading into a sensually danced Tango de Amor.

Each of the other family members also rises to our cartoon-remembering expectations.  The bow-carrying, petite daughter Wednesday (Courtney Hatcher) is on the one hand precocious, sullen, and quite willing to torture her brother Pugsley (the stubby, pouty Zac Schuman) to his (and our) delight as he is strapped to a body-stretching device in their duet Pulled.  But as Gomez notes, “Wednesday’s growing up … she’ll be Thursday before you know it.”  Ms. Hatcher also convincingly portrays Wednesday’s determined struggle to cut her Mother’s apron strings and to break from family darkness to a sunnier side of life.  As her husband-to-be Lucas, Jeffrey Brian Adams also teeters between obedient, puppy son to a commanding father who at first wants no part of this strange family and a defiant, heads-over-heels-in-love young man who declares in duet with Wednesday, “I am Crazier than You. 

The evening’s true knockout numbers come from yet two more of this talented array of character actors who deliver Andrew Lippa’s pun-filled lyrics and peppy music with gusto.  Alice Beineke (Elise Youssef) falls prey to a Pugsley-planned trick on his sister in a riotous truth telling that brings down the house and totally shocks the two families in the vaudeville-voiced Full Disclosure.  D. Scott McQuiston gives the evening’s top performance as the loving, quirky, wise counselor-to-all Uncle Fester.  His love song, The Moon and Me, to the girlfriend hanging above in the night sky captures the true heart and hope Fester strives to bring to all the discordance and confusion around him.  And as he notes, “In matters of love, distance is the key.”

What makes this production particularly special in music and fun are The Ancestors, six Addams family members (ranging from speared knight in helmet to guillotined lady in gown) who come back from the crypt for an annual visit and who remain at Uncle Fester’s bidding) to help ensure love wins out.  The ghostly costumes (by Abra Berman), strong voices in harmony, and eclectic choreography deftly executed (by Brett Blankenship and Carmichael “CJ’ Blankenship) combine for some of the best moments among many really good ones throughout the evening.

For anyone who saw the original, critically-panned, 2010 Broadway production of The Addams Family and was disappointed as much as I, it is important to know that many changes were made before the Great White Way version took to the touring road and then on to regional stages.  Songs, like a nonsensical one about a giant squid, were replaced with new ones as well as a much-improved story line that make Gomez’s and Morticia’s relationship much more intriguing, interesting, and intense.  The Ancestors themselves are delightfully now much more central in story and song.  When this revised book and music is revamped in a setting like the compact, audience-close The Stage in San Jose along with an excellent cast directed so expertly by Tony Kelly, the result is family-friendly fun for all ages. 

In the immortal words of Morticia, “Death is around the corner, and the other end is your coffin.  Feel better?”

Rating: 4 E’s

The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy continues at The Stage in San Jose through July 26, 2015.

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