The “creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky” family known as The Addams have arrived in Fullerton as 3-D Theatricals debuts its star-powered Broadway-caliber big-stage production of (snap, snap) The Addams Family.
Mention 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).
Still, it wasn’t until 2010 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 SoCal musical theater lovers can savor over the next month, first in Fullerton and then in Redondo Beach.
That 3-D has harnessed the star pizzazz of TV’s “Balki” Bronson Pinchot and Broadway star Rachel York as Gomez and Morticia makes these Addams even more of a must-see.
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 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 out-of-character canary yellow dress that Wednesday (Micaela Martinez) dons or her family’s promise to try to behave normally can hide the fact that the Addams (Anthony Gruppuso as Uncle Fester, Candi Milo as Grandma, Dante Marenco as Pugsly, and Dustin Ceithamer as Lurch) resemble no one whom Lucas (Dino Nicandros) and his parents Mal and Alice Beineke (Robert Yacko and Tracy Rowe Mutz) have ever met before.
After all, how many families have a son who worries that his gone-normal older sister won’t be torturing him anymore, or an uncle who confesses to being in love with the moon, or a dismembered hand that pops up every so often out of the blue, or a furry midget named Cousin It?
Then comes the moment when the young lovers announce their plans to marry and, with a sudden storm preventing the Beinekes from taking their disapproving leave, theatergoers have more than enough reason to stick around for Act Two.
The musical to which 3-D is treating its audiences is 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 were 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, Gomez now learns about Wednesday’s marriage plans early on, his discovery leading to a new and considerably more compelling 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 now than they did on Broadway.
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.” “Death is just around the corner, waiting high upon the hill.”) As for Brickman and Elice’s book, it couldn’t be more delightfully campy, its pop culture references particular treats.
Director TJ Dawson and his entire cast of principal players have clearly done their Addams Family homework, paying tribute to the Charles Addams creations as we’ve seen them in so many media and forms while adding their own individual touches.
Leading man Pinchot giving the Addams patriarch abundant zest, warmth, and joie-de-mourir, and since the Perfect Stranger star knows his way around accents, his deliciosamente “Espanich” Gomez makes Ricky Ricardo sound like a native American English speaker.
As for 3D’s Morticia, is there a more glorious Broadway leading lady that York? I think not, as attested to by the National Tour Performer Of The Year Scenie she won last year for her re-invention of Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes. York’s Morticia combines glamour, oomph, sultriness, and sex appeal, which along with the Broadway star’s vocal chops, dance prowess, and legs-that-won’t-quit make her any production’s “nightmare” Morticia.
Gruppuso is a delight as loopy Uncle Fester, Milo steals every scene she’s in as ditzy Grandma, Marenco is a sweet and punky Pugsley, and Ceithamer is a 7-foot-tall treat as towering Lurch, whose surprise Act Two solo brought tears to my eyes.
As for young lovers Wednesday and Lucas, the stardom-bound Martinez and Nicandros get the best showcases to date for their talents, and both are simply wonderful.
So too are Yacko and Mutz as the supposedly “normal” Mal and Alice, the latter in particular having a show-stopping field day once “Full Disclosure” kicks in.
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 fourteen spectacular L.A.-based triple-threats—Gary Brintz (Convict), Ryan Chlanda (Gambler), Nick Gardner (Conquistador), Jordan Goodsell (Founding Father), Natalie Iscovich (Flapper), Harrison Meloeny (Soldier), Leslie Miller (Saloon Girl), Nick Morganella (Caveman), Dylan Pass (Pilgrim), Kirklyn Robinson (Viking), Kellianne Safarik (Cowgirl), Jean Schroeder (Indian), dance captain Leslie Stevens (Flight Attendant), and Christine Tucker (Bride)—the lot of whom not only benefit from their beefed-up touring roles, but get the lion’s share of L.A. choreographic superstar Dana Solimando’s imaginatively quirky dance steps. (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.)
The Addams Family looks fantastic (or should that be phantasmic?), its gothic National Tour sets by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott and uber-imaginative puppets by Basil Twist having won the Drama Desk award, and its 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.
Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting and Julie Ferrin’s sound design are both their accustomed fine work, with Denice Paxton recreating the original Broadway makeup designs and Cliff Senior and Kat Senior-Scott recreating wigs.
Kazsandra A. Liput is costume coordinator Viking costume designer. Properties are coordinated by Gretchen Morales and Melanie Cavaness.
Nicole Wessel is production stage manager and David Jordan Nestor is assistant stage manager. Jene Roach is technical director and Terry Hanrahan is technical director. Jeanette Dawson and Ryan Ruge are assistant directors. Estevan Valdes is tango choreographer assistant.
“Creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky” Gomez, Morticia, and their fellow Addams are all that and more … and who knew they were such consummate performers!
Somewhere up in Addams Family heaven (or should that be down in Addams Family hell?), Charles Addams must have a great big smile on his face.
Plummer Auditorium, 210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.
October 11, 2105
Photos: Isaac James Creative