Sunday, October 22, 2017

image by LVBart

THEY MAY BE CREEPY, kooky and all together ooky, but The Addams Family—now playing at Footlight Players Theatre—are one of America’s most loved comic strip creations. I’m proud to say that even before the TV Series of the 1960s, (I was in diapers at the time) I owned a collection of The Addams Family single-panel cartoons created by Charles Addams—which depict a ghoulish American family with an affinity for all things macabre.

Musicals have routinely been created from the slightest of source materials, and comic strips are certainly no exception. There was Lil’ Abner (Lil’Abner), Peanuts (You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown & Snoopy), Superman (Superman) and of course Little Orphan Annie (Annie)—all musicals that have taken two-dimensional strips and put them under stage lights to sing and dance. What The Addams Family lacks in catchy songs and well-crafted narrative, it makes up for in atmosphere, campiness and the cozy company of Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Lurch and the rest of the appealing, if somewhat odd Addams clan.

Granted, there is something odd about the macabre Addamses cavorting and bursting into song, but musical theatre is over-the-top, and what could be more over-the-top than a death-obsessed family singing and dancing their way around the stage? What is for certain, Footlight’s talented cast does it with commitment and joy in this production. And it must be noted that part of the production’s fun is the presence of a dozen dead ancestors meandering through the show singing backup and commenting on what is happening among their living descendants, while they set and reset furniture.

The plot is simple. Wednesday (Rebecca Weatherby) has grown into a lovely young woman and has fallen in love with a normal guy, Lucas Beineke (Matthew Willingham) of Ohio. They want to marry, but his straight-laced folks (Emma Scott & Daniel Breuer) and Wednesday’s unique parents have yet to meet. He’s a gruff businessman. She’s chirpy and partial to rhymes and hues other than black. Wednesday tells her father about Lucas, then swears him to secrecy. Since Gomez (David Hatch) and Morticia (Maureen Renee Hughes) have vowed never to keep anything from one another, this is bound to create problems for the still love-sloshed married couple. And it does.

It’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but with some enjoyable twists. Caught between his two implacable women, Gomez sings amusingly of his dilemma in “Trapped.” As in this very fun song, Andrew Lippa’s Tony-nominated music and lyrics prove to be more smartly bound to the action than they are lasting. The songs are full of witty turns of phrase but unlikely to send you out humming the tunes. That’s not to say audiences are robbed of impressive numbers. “One Normal Night” is a kicker!

Footlight Players Cast

The production opens with a breath-taking tableau of the iconic family and, with finger-snapping pleasure, leads us into the opening number, “When You’re an Addams.” The costumes—living Addamses in black, dead relations in white—are tremendously creative and were assembled and/or executed by Charleston Costume Design & Rentals. Director Shannon Horn has assembled an excellent cast and, aided by Musical Director Anne Warf and Choreographer Megan Pue, has hit a bulls-eye with this audience-pleasing production.

Hatch is a delight as a stylish Gomez Addams, the amorous husband filled with a love of life (or death) who’s put in an impossible position by being asked to keep Wednesday’s secret from his wife, who cannot forgive dishonesty. At the appropriate times, his expressive eyes look positively pained at disappointing his “Cara mia.” Hughes is a sultry presence as the delicious Morticia. Arguably the toughest acting role, she has the vexingly conventional job of being a controlling wife with unreasonable expectations, while remaining soft and sexy. She nails it!

Pugsley (Jessie Price) has some cute moments, notably when his sister is literally torturing him. Uncle Fester (Rusty Cooler) is a romantic, and his child-like fantasy of dating the moon creates a few sweet and funny moments—both musical and not. Grandma (Alison Brower) dispenses wisdom from some lunatic plane of her own. Lurch (Clyde Moser) has some of my favorite surprises in the show—and what a voice! And all of the Beinekes, who play the straight roles, successfully hold their ground in the chaos. Especially Scott, who goes from Donna Reed to Ursula the Sea Witch and back again.

But the undeniable star of the show is Weatherby! Wednesday bursts with passion—ballad or production number, it’s difficult not to watch her. Her singing voice is spectacular and carries off something really rare in a musical: she is well-rounded and you care what happens to her. In fact, as Shannon Horn says in her Director’s Notes, “The Addams Family really is like any other family,” and she’s right.

The script by the Jersey Boys team of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice mixes Addams-appropriate grotesqueries with a whole lot of corny jokes and some funny under-the-breath political jabs that skirt the edge of character-breaking. The songs by Andrew Lippa (Big Fish) are a grab-bag of tango, cabaret and musical theatre-style numbers that are very entertaining. There are a few too many inner-monologues sung to the crowd, but it’s a small price to pay for an otherwise charming evening.

The Addams Family  |  OCT 20 thru NOV 5
Footlight Players Theatre
20 Queen Street

Stan Gill is the founder and artistic director of Sprouts Childrens Theatre.


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