Talk about The Addams Family and the oldest among us will recall the darkly humorous single-panel cartoons that appeared in the New Yorker from 1938 on. Boomers will instantly flash back to the black-and-white mid-1960s sitcom of the same name, and their children will remember either the ‘73 or ‘92 animated Addams Family series, or the ’91 film adaptation (or either of its two sequels). And that’s not counting The New Addams Family (the late ‘90s remake of the original TV series) or an Addams family video game and even an Addams family pinball machine.
Still, it wasn’t until two years ago that Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandma, Wednesday, Pugsley, and Cousin It made their Broadway debut in the 725-performance The Addams Family, and it is that Drama Desk and Drama League Award-winning musical that has arrived at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts in its hilarious, crowd-pleasingly revised First National Tour.
La Cage, as you recall, had its young romantic hero insisting that his gay parents play it straight for his fiancée and her conservative folks, The Addams Family has daughter Wednesday insisting that her “creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky” family give her decidedly un-ghoulish boyfriend Lucas and his parents “One Normal Night” when they show up for an Addams Family dinner. (“You must admit we aren’t what people call ‘laid back,’” Wednesday reminds her family in song. “So can’t we muse a bit and lose the basic black?”)
Not surprisingly, not even Wednesday’s out-of-character canary yellow dress and her family’s promise to try to behave normally can hide the fact that the Addams aren’t like anyone Lucas and his parents Mal and Alice Beineke have ever met before. After all, how many families have a son who worries that his gone-straight older sister won’t be torturing him anymore, or an uncle who confesses to being in love with the moon, or a dismembered hand which pops up every so often out of the blue, or a furry midget Cousin It?
Then comes the moment when the young lovers announce their plans to marry, with only a sudden storm preventing the Beinekes from taking their leave and giving theatergoers a reason to stick around for Act Two.
Tour audiences have been seeing an Addams Family considerably tweaked from its Broadway incarnation, which itself saw numerous changes following its Chicago tryout—a textbook example of just how much rewriting goes into creating a hit musical. Four Broadway songs have been cut for the tour along with a couple of subplots, one revolving around Morticia’s worries about getting older and another featuring a now excised giant pet squid. (Their absence is not missed.)
Unlike the Broadway original, touring Gomez learns about Wednesday’s marriage plans early on, his discovery leading to a new and considerably more interesting plot thread—how to keep this secret from Morticia without resorting to out-and-out lies. Also, a pair of new songs give the supporting ensemble (a host of Addams ancestors) a good deal more to do in the tour than they had in New York.
Adding to the freshness of this First National Tour is Broadway whiz Jerry (“Entire Production Under The Supervision Of”) Zaks, with Phelim McDermmott and Julian Crouch now credited for their “original direction.”
Composer/lyricist Lippa’s melodies are catchy and his lyrics as clever as can be. (“Give us shadows and give us gloom, broken glass in a motel room, something fun we can all exhume, and give it all tonight!” “Death is just around the corner, waiting high upon the hill. Someone buried in an avalanche, that’s the kind of gig I can really dig.”) As for Brickman and Elice’s book, it couldn’t be more delightfully campy, its pop culture references particular treats. (At one point a startled Gomez tells Morticia, “I thought you were Cher!”)
Its December arrival at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts marks the final stop of The Addams Family’s First National Tour, and therefore the very last chance for audiences to catch Broadway stars Douglas Sills and Sara Gettelfinger as Gomez and Morticia Addams, roles they’ve been playing for the past fifteen months.
Like the show in which they star, Sills and Gettelfinger are markedly different from their Broadway predecessors Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. Sills is, after all, the swashbuckling original star of The Scarlet Pimpernel, a role Lane could only play in a Mel Brooks spoof, and as for Gettelfinger, suffice it to say that the statuesque scene-stealing Jolene of Broadway’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a good two-decades Neuwirth’s junior, and overflows Morticia’s plunge neckline like nobody’s business.
Sills not only sings gorgeously (hardly a surprise) but exhibits stellar comedic chops as well, making his Gomez an infectious delight from start to finish. Gettelfinger is sensational too, and her chemistry with Sills is indeed sizzling, the two stars benefitting from rewrites which make their roles all the funnier and their storyline all the more compelling.
Superlatives are in order for the entire Addams gang, from Blake Hammond’s deliciously loopy Uncle Fester to Pippa Pearthree’s delightfully ditzy Grandma to Tom Corbeil’s terrifically towering Lurch to Patrick D. Kennedy’s splendidly spunky Pugsley. (Stick around to find out why operatic basso Corbeil got the part of the taciturn butler.) As young lovers Wednesday and Lucas, big-voiced charmer Cortney Wolfson and handsome, winning Curtis Holbrook simply couldn’t be better or more endearing. Martin Vidnovic and Gaelen Gilliland are marvelous too as the supposedly “normal” Mal and Alice.
And then there are The Ancestors, decked out in ghostly white in a variety of ingenious guises, spanning from prehistoric to 20th Century times, and brought to “life” by spectacular triple-threats Sara Andreas, Steve Geary, Megan Jimenez, Patrick Oliver Jones, Lizzie Klemperer, assistant dance captain Michelle Marmolejo, Christy Morton, Roland Rusinek, Matthew Schmidt (who’ll be playing Lucas from December 19-23), and fight captain Geo Seery—the lot of whom not only benefit from their beefed-up touring roles, but get the lion’s share of Sergio Trujillo’s imaginatively quirky choreography. (The big opening number has the entire Addams clan, living and dead, line dancing, doing the bunny hop and the twist, and even “dancing” the rigor mortis as only the dead, dying, and motion-challenged can do.)
Swings Lauryn Ciardullo, Victoria Huston-Elem, Brad Nacht, and (dance captain/puppet performance captain) Jonathan Ritter are poised to step into the cast at a moment’s notice.
The Addams Family looks fantastic (or should that be phantasmic?), its gothic sets by Crouch and McDermott and uber-imaginative puppets by Basil Twist having won the Drama Desk award, and costumes (by Crouch and McDermott) equally award-worthy. Not only do sets and costumes match Charles Addams’ original style and concept, there’s a red velvet curtain that does truly magical things. Natasha Katz’s lighting, Acme Sound Partners’ sound design, Tom Watson’s hair design, Angelina Avallone’s makeup design, and Gregory Meeh’s special effects (a levitating Fester is a standout) are all Grade-A Broadway bedazzling.
Musical director Ben Whiteley conducts a dozen or so splendid musicians (most of them local) in the tour’s topnotch pit orchestra. E. Cameron Holsinger is production stage manager.
Orange County theatergoers (and their L.A. counterparts who may have missed a previous Addams Family stop) are hereby advised to ignore any negatives they may have heard about The Addams Family during its Broadway run. With its considerably stronger storyline, couldn’t-be-better cast, and eye-catching dances and designs, The Addams Family tour makes for the best kind of family entertainment, its umpteen double entendres destined to delight adults and whoosh right over the heads of kids.
My best guess is that even old Ebenezer Scrooge would have a blast, an Addams Family blast!
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
December 18, 2012
Photos: Jeremy Daniel