How is it that everyone knows that when the theme from The Addams Family (the TV show) starts, you snap your fingers in the musical rests? I guess there were enough of us in the audience who had seen the 1964-66 TV show, live or in reruns, that snapping our fingers was simply the natural thing to do. So even before the curtain opened, most of us knew what to expect: something weird, yet weirdly familiar.
This Broadway show, which debuted in 2010, tells the story of the quirky, borderline macabre Addams family’s meeting with the “normal” Beinekes for a get-acquainted dinner because Wednesday Addams and Luke Beineke have fallen in love. Gomez Addams (the father) and Morticia (his wife) are at odds over their attitude toward the union, while Uncle Fester hovers as a benign presence, and son Pugsley, Grandma and butler Lurch add spice to the action. Husband and wife Malcolm and Alice Beineke suppress their dismay at the Addams’ lifestyle long enough to stay for dinner. It seems there is no way this could turn out well, and it almost doesn’t, but getting to a happy ending involves many hilarious sketches and twists and turns in the plot.
There are only 10 principal characters in this show, but there are 28 “ancestors” and each has a distinctive character: the Soldier Ancestor, the Nurse Ancestor, the Caveman Ancestor, etc. Early in the show they are summoned from the grave and present themselves quickly to the audience by ones and twos: their make-up, wigs, and costume elements suggesting their different identities. More than this, though, throughout the show they act their characters, adding interest and the spark of personality each time they appear, dancing, singing, and sometimes serving as a Greek chorus in responding to the words or actions of the principal characters.
The acting of these ancestors was helped with some of the most amazing costuming and make-up I’ve seen with the El Dorado Musical Theatre (EDMT). I think that make-up designer, Erica Wilson, and her assistants were clearly the backstage stars of this show, and even though the ancestors were supposed to be dead, they looked “fabulous.” The other backstage genius was costumer Christine Martorana, who had to come up with wonderfully clever costumes for this show that were obviously unlike anything else she’s ever had to create.
The acting of the principals was nothing short of superb. I’ve become a fan of Ryan Van Overeem, and his ability as a comic actor shone in the role of Gomez, brilliantly overacting along with excellent singing and dancing. With Morticia’s long, tight dress, it looked like Anjie Rose Wilson wouldn’t be able to show what a fine dancer she is. She eventually did get to do some terrific dancing, but in the meanwhile she played her part perfectly, never cracking a smile. And even from the start of the show, she moved with the grace of a dancer. Madison Sykes as Wednesday was equally dark, except when she was manipulating Gomez, or working out her relationship with Quintin Casl as Lucas, who brought energy to his transformation when he became “crazier than you.” Kelly Maur is such a versatile actress, and she needed all that versatility to develop from the mousy wife who always spoke in rhyme to the tell-it-like-it-is tigress she became. Hunter Clary made Pugsley’s improbable masochism believable, and Hannah Davis was perfectly creepy as Grandma. Asten Fallavollita is tall anyway, but his 6-inch elevator shoes made him an even stranger Lurch. And his tortured vocalizations when greeting the Beinekes for the first time drew roars of laughter from the audience. I’ve seen Zach Wilson in so many wonderful roles in EDMT shows, and I marveled to think how far he’d come from playing the ugly duckling in Honk! Jr. to a completely credible father in the role of Malcolm Beineke.
If there was a break-out performance in this show is was that of Drew Matthews as Uncle Fester. I’ve seen Drew in other EDMT shows and High Voltage productions, and he did well, but this was different. He completely embraced the role of the bald, fat, child-like Fester, wrangling the ancestors, professing his love for the moon — and making this improbable character come alive. I was especially impressed with his singing, but that could be said for all the principals, and I especially remember the excellent singing of Ryan, Madison, and Kelly.
Speaking of singing, the lyrics in the songs of this show are wonderfully clever, and so is the dialog with its frequent references to popular culture. Actually, the lyrics and dialog go beyond clever, and with the help of effective staging and the comedic talents of the actors, there were times in this show where it seemed that the laughter in the audience was nearly continuous. Occasionally, the lyrics or dialog or situations were a little “naughty.” After all, this was a faithful representation of a recent Broadway show, not “The Addams Family Jr.” So if you’re so sensitive as to be put off by Morticia’s banning Gomez from the bedroom or Gomez’s resulting agony in the song “Not Today,” consider yourself warned. My judgment, though, is that, though the show may rate a “PG,” it never approaches “PG-13” territory. Even then, I think anything remotely sensitive would go way over the heads of the youngest children, who would be entranced by everything happening on the stage.
As always with EDMT shows, the dancing was a major part of the fun. I’ve asked myself: How can every EDMT dance routine seem so fresh, with moves I’ve never seen before? The answer comes from the inspiration of the show itself. It’s the time and place of the show’s setting, and the plot and characters that give choreographer Debbie Wilson her ideas. She comes up with clever, complex choreography, and these kids respond because they can do anything she asks of them. Time and again, the dance numbers take flights of fancy as in the song “The Moon and Me,” when Uncle Fester professes his love for the moon. The song has a 1920s style, so out came the female ancestors as 1920s bathing beauties in black and white striped bathing suits (and their dead ancestor make-up), twirling umbrellas. Meanwhile the moon (with a face) is projected on a screen behind Fester, moving as if responding to him and finally blinking its/her eyes. Crazy, yes? But delightfully so, given the fundamental quirkiness of the premise of the whole show. And you could see the green light to choreographic experimentation in so many other routines: the ancestors bunny-hopping in a line or the cast imitating familiar choreography from A Chorus Line in the number “[Death Is] Just Around the Corner.”
Throughout this show, I kept thinking what a great set they had. Actually, I was fooled. The set was fairly spare, but what made it great were the frequently-changing projections. We could be in New York City’s Central Park or in the Addams’ mansion with a change of the image projected onto the screen at the back of the stage or masked and projected onto a series of columns. All this was the work of Zach Wilson and 3 projectors. Zach, apart from being a complete performer, has become an expert projection designer. Add to that a range of clever props, including fly-ins from above, and the stage itself was as engaging a sight as the actors in their make-up and costumes. Like every EDMT production I’ve seen, everything on the other side of the proscenium was an “eyeful.”
In my notes, I wrote down one clever touch after another: sight gags and surprises of all kinds. But I’m resisting telling you about them because it might spoil some of the fun. Still, there is one gag(?) I have to comment on. At one point Gomez is making a reservation by phone for a hotel in Paris. The phone is an old-style one where the parts you speak into and listen from are separated by a cord. Gomez did the whole bit speaking into the wrong end. Was Ryan aware of his mistake? And how many kids in the audience caught the mistake — if it truly was a mistake and not just another bit of whacky humor?
It looks like the trend lately is to stage the bows at the end of a musical. And the bows at the end of The Addams Family were far and away the most elaborate — and cutest — I’ve seen, amping up the energy of both the wildly appreciative audience and players before they gathered in the lobby to celebrate yet another outstanding production by the El Dorado Musical Theatre.