The “creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky” family known as The Addams have arrived at the Simi Valley Performing Arts Center in a production that proves an audience-pleaser even without Broadway sets and Equity performers, particularly as captained by a sensational George Chavez as Gomez Addams.
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 now arrives in Simi Valley thanks to Actors Repertory Theatre Of Simi.
With Tony-nominated music by Andrew (The Wild Party) Lippa, The Addams Family The Musical (book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) borrows its central conceit from La Cage Aux Folles.
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 (Natalia Vivino) dons or her family’s promise to try to behave normally can hide the fact that the Addams (Kayla Bailey as Morticia, Andrew Metzger as Uncle Fester, Carla Lombardo Bambo as Grandma, Bryce Phillips as Pugsly, and Kevin Ellis as Lurch) resemble no one whom Lucas (Colin Robert) and his parents Mal and Alice Beineke (Randle Rankin and Lori Lee Gordon) 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, a furry midget named Cousin It (making only a brief cameo), or a dismembered hand that pops up every so often out of the blue? (Thank you, Thing.)
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.
As he did earlier this year with ARTS’ best-ever production of Catch Me if You Can, director David Daniels provides The Addams Family with plenty of imaginative touches throughout.
Still, if ever there were a show raised to a whole new level by a single star turn, this is that production gracias a Chavez’s richly-layered, scene-stealing work as Gomez, a performance that matches those of the far better known Douglas Sills and Bronson Pinchot in previously reviewed Equity productions.
While paying tribute to those who originated Gomez on TV and film, Chavez makes the Addams patriarch very much his own, from his deliciously heightened south-of-the-border accent to the abundant panache he gives the role to the splendid pipes that make every Gomez song a treat.
And speaking of pipes, Broadway vocal chops rarely get much better than Vivino’s as Wednesday or Gordon’s as Alice, the former an adorably dark delight as Gomez’s pride and joy, the latter having a field day as an Ohio housewife gone wild.
Bailey’s Morticia sings and dances terrifically and has a hilariously ghoulish/nerdy whinny of a laugh but a deeper, sultrier speaking register would make her performance even stronger, more like other Morticias we’ve come to know and love and fear.
Bambo’s weird and wonderful Grandma, Phillips’ sweet and spirited Pugsly, Ellis’s deliciously grunting tower of a Lurch, and best of all Metzger’s wild-and-crazy Uncle Fester are all Addams Family gems.
Rankin (Catch Me If You Can’s stellar Carl Hanraty) does topnotch work too as Ohio-normal Mal and Robert gives young Lucas an earnest charm and first-rate vocals.
And then there are The Ancestors, decked out in ghostly white in a variety of guises spanning from Ancient to 20th-Century times, enthusiastically played by Constance Addams (The Courtesan), Oliver Skye Earley Anderson (Newsie), Sage Ceilidh Earley Anderson (Child Star), dance captain Augusto Guardado, Alissa Horner, Caeli Molina (Saloon Girl), Kelsey Nisbett, Ryan Schultze (Solider Ancestor or Colonel Mustard Addams), Emilie Schwarz (Sacagawea), Alexandra Vann (Bride), and William Venturini. (Only the decision to include three small children among the deceased Addams proves questionable at best.)
Vocally, the Ancestors couldn’t be better, their harmonizing under Matthew Park’s musical direction giving ensemble numbers a rich professional sound, and they prove themselves adept dancers to Becky Castell’s delightful 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.)
Scenic designer Daniels and Chris Sack keep things simple but effective, projections helping to set the scene. Ken Patton and Genevieve Levin have come up with a bevy of costumes that match our Addams Family memories while giving the Beinekes and the Ancestors suitably Ohioan and ghostly looks. Richard Hernandez and Brenda Miller merit high marks for their specialty prop design as do Miller and Jan Glasband for the show’s (non-specialty) props. Seth Kamenow’s sound design mixes vocals and the show’s live orchestra without a glitch. Julien Reux’s lighting is topnotch too. Luis Ramirez’s deserves snaps for the show’s multiple character wigs. Makeup design is uncredited but excellent.
The Addams Family is produced by Glasband. Megan Tisler is stage manager.
If Sunday’s sold-out all-age audience is any indication, The Addams Family appears likely to be one of ARTS biggest hits to date. It’s also one of the company’s best.
Actors Repertory Theatre Of Simi, Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley.
November 8, 2105