This holiday season, the fine folks at the Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont, CA, are certainly aware that most of us love our families even if we have disagreements from time to time. After all, nobody’s perfect and it’s best to embrace who we are, warts and all, because that’s what makes us unique. Despite being more unique than the rest of us, “The Addams Family” is no different; they just have a love for the ghastly and the grisly to go along with an undead pallid complexion, not to mention morbid interests and a wry sense of humor to match (don’t worry, they’re great people!). The charmingly creepy family is Charles Addams’ creation (from his single-panel gag cartoons that ran in The New Yorker for fifty years), springing to life the ghoulish dark comedy TV series in the mid-60s, the animated series in the mid-70s, and the films in the early 1990s.
After running for a year-and-a-half on Broadway – ending on New Year’s Eve 2011 — “The Addams Family” musical has returned from the crypt many a time, including at the Candlelight Pavilion, now through November 24th. With book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and music & lyrics by Andrew Lippa, the show’s purpose isn’t to necessarily scare but to make its audience members laugh uproariously – and sometimes a tad uncomfortably – as well as to remind of the importance of having loving relationships with family, friends, and significant others.
Set-designer Chuck Ketter has returned and this time he’s also directing the production. The stage is eerily atmospheric, with Uncle Fester’s beloved full moon glowing proudly overhead and the Addams’ mansion in Central Park looking grand with a pair of parallel Victorian-era staircases. The gorgeous purples and dimmed hues by Steven Pliska dress the family’s Gothic abode with speckles of spookiness, and the predominantly black formfitting costumes, coordinated by Merrill Grady and Linda Vick, give the impression that this freaky family is well tailored if nothing else. In addition, the wigs by Michon Gruber-Gonzales – specifically Grandma’s exceedingly disheveled ‘do and the family ancestors’ elaborate locks – revivify the characters’ macabre mystique.
Ketter, moreover, does a magnificent job of not only making the premise – of a teenage Wednesday Addams who invites her ordinary boyfriend Lucas Beineke (and his parents Mal and Alice) over to the Addams’ residence to announce their nuptials – new again, but he reaffirms the musical’s overarching principle: That, no matter how idiosyncratic or staid, we all bond over the same desire to love and be loved. The juxtaposition of the odd (the Addamses) and the unwashed (Beinekes) begins as appropriately polarized, but, by the end, it is a distinction that vanishes away, cured by our edification and enjoyment of the portrayals.
The musical gets off to a rollicking start with finger-snapping fun by Thing and the great boneyard tune of “When You’re an Addams,” bringing to the forefront the distinct but closely connected individuals of the Addams’ clan, whose voices boom lovingly and are accented with just a smidgen of playful ominousness – a credit to music director, Rod Bagheri, who helps strike an undercurrent of mystery in the overall sound. Supplementing the music with lush movement are choreographers Kirklyn Robinson and Dylan Pass, who particularly ensure that the company numbers (represented by a fabulous ensemble) brim with an intoxicating mixture of verve and vitality.
Johnny Fletcher zestfully renders the unending passion of the Spanish-blooded Gomez, who is, after 25 years, still deeply in love with his wife, Morticia – exquisitely and seductively played by Erica Marie Weisz. As crazy as Gomez and Morticia are about each other, and their mutual love of tango, they too are not immune to the unpredictable vicissitudes of their relationship; in this case, Gomez is “Trapped” between placating his daughter’s wish to keep her matrimonial announcement temporarily covert and fulfilling his wife’s desire to have no “Secrets.” Fletcher and Weisz are magnetic together even when their personae begin to amusingly stew in melodramatic doubt and melancholy. For instance, in getting across her character feeling left out by her husband and daughter, Weisz is elegant, affecting, and satirical during her performance of “Just Around the Corner,” which culminates in a tap sequence and a literal dance with Death. Likewise, Fletcher is excellent at being vibrantly carefree while also capturing Gomez’s poignantly relatable fatherly dilemma of seeing Wednesday grow up so quickly before his eyes in “Happy/Sad,” and conveying Gomez’s staunch determination as a husband who refuses to have his marriage dissolve in “Not Today.” Of course, in the numbers they share together, Weisz and Fletcher are irresistibly prepossessing as the otherworldly onstage couple, who, despite their characters’ challenges, are a picture-perfect representation of a love-struck union (e.g., “Live Before We Die,” and especially the elaborate audience-pleaser, “Tango de Amor”).
The Addams’ children — the crossbow-toting Wednesday and the dynamite-wielding Pugsley — are portrayed by Amanda Minano and Michael Gallo, respectively. Besides finding the right balance and angst of Wednesday, who is caught between her unorthodox origins and a desire to acculturate herself to the rest of society, Minano is gifted with steadfast vocals that unfetteredly express her love-fueled transformation in “Pulled” and “Crazier Than You.” Minano pulls the observer in with an impetuous urgency such that we empathize with her character loving another in Lucas (Colby Rummell) whom some of her family members might be unsure of. Rummell reacts on-point to the potential ramifications of this plot-central tribulation, mirroring Wednesday’s fervent vow to love fearlessly. The most tangible consequence to Wednesday and Lucas’ bond is that which affects the former’s younger brother, Pugsley, who fears being forgotten by his sibling best friend. Precocious ten-year-old Michael Gallo is sweetly sympathetic as the perhaps maladapted, but well-intentioned boy, who wants the makeup of his family to remain unchanged.
Jennifer Wilcove humorously depicts the inscrutable Grandma, who, despite being 102 years old and shriveled in stature, has a very vivid imagination and still runs her own one-woman apothecary. There is, furthermore, the unmistakably quirky and wacky Uncle Fester, brother to Gomez, who has a taste for “delicious anarchy” and a penchant for the curves and craters of the moon. Greg Nicholas delightfully invokes the kooky and comical spirit of the banjo-strumming Fester, channeling an incalculably eccentric energy that is also doubtlessly dear. This is best exemplified during the tender, howlingly funny, and must-be-seen-to-be-believed version of “The Moon and Me,” which sees Nicholas’ Fester levitate and gravitate toward the celestial body, as his lower limbs take on the shape of flaccid but flexible puppet legs that do mid-outerspace splits. Fester’s esotericism is matched only by the family’s laconic butler and protector, Lurch – a role that retains its commanding and toweringly likeable presence thanks to Mitch Stark.
Contrasted with the atypical-in-appearance marriage between Gomez and Morticia, Mel and Alice Beineke (played by Jim Skousen and Debbie Prutsman) might seem, at first glance, to be more commonplace or “normal.” However, pre-judgments can be a nefarious thing, and what the eyes objectively see thus uncover a story wherein relational similarities surprisingly abound between the couples. Skousen’s Mel is befriended by Gomez and Fester, who attempt to get their guest to open up about his conjugal difficulties; it is a hurt that is substantively felt by Prutsman’s Alice, who tries to cope with her silent suffering by rhyming her words. Nonetheless, upon accidentally drinking a personality-augmenting potion meant for Wednesday during a game of “Full Disclosure,” Alice is unable to bottle up her relationship dissatisfaction for much longer. Prutsman admirably lays it all on the line, as her Alice gloriously pops off, becoming uninhibited to the point of crawling out of her skin on the Addams’ elongated dining table, empowered by an out-of-body emotional catharsis, whereby she searingly laments the dissipated romance between herself and Mel in “Waiting.”
Indubitably, “The Addams Family” musical is another marvelously worthwhile entry in the Candlelight Pavilion’s anthology of entertainment. The look of the show is tinted with a dynamic sheath of darkness that is perfect for Halloween, and the content is hauntingly hysterical. More so than that, this production is highly recommended because, under the guise of dark comedy and the strange witticisms, there is the comforting notion that in life or in death, in harmony or in discord, family is forever. There is no other theme that is more germane to the holidays.
For more information about “The Addams Family” musical, please visit candlelightpavilion.com