Halloween is once again upon us and with that, you can expect another visit from the creepy, kooky, and ooky Addams clan, in the 2010 Broadway musical The Addams Family. 5-Star Theatricals utilizes a uniformly outstanding cast, featuring headliner Teri Hatcher, and a stellar full orchestra in its terrific, audience pleasing production, featuring Andrew Lippa’s outstanding score and Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s snappy, pun-filled dialog.
The musical was supposed to be based solely on cartoonist Charles Addams’ macabre single-panel drawings in The New Yorker magazine rather than its more familiar offspring, the ubiquitous 1964-66 television sitcom and the motion picture franchise (beginning in 1991), however, homages to the TV show appear to dominate (the original New Yorker drawings didn’t name any of the recurring characters), most recognizably, Vic Mizzy’s finger-snapping four-note riff in the sitcom’s theme song. Lippa wrote a new Addamsian melody to follow the riff, which is one of a smattering of familiar elements from the TV show that is inserted into the musical. Others include token appearances by Thing and Cousin Itt (as curtain pullers) and gimmicks like Morticia pruning flowers off thorny rose stems and Uncle Fester illuminating light bulbs in his mouth.
5-Star’s production allows for the insertion of contemporary cultural and localized references, the former coming in the form of mentions of Netflix and Tik-Tok and the latter with asides referring to Ventura and the Oaks Mall, keeping the audience on its toes. In fact, “Addams” has so many gags, it almost requires multiple visits in order to catch all of the jokes, especially with TV star Hatcher in the cast. You knew that somehow, there had to be references to her long stint as Susan Mayer on Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) and her memorable 1993 appearance as Sidra Holland on Seinfeld (“They’re real, and they’re spectacular”) and director Kirsten Chandler doesn’t disappoint, to the squealing delight of the audience.
But Hatcher proves to be more than just a judicious casting choice to cash in on her Q Score. Despite studying at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Hatcher spent most of her career in television and film. She made one return to the theatre in 1999, when she starred as Sally Bowles in a national tour of Cabaret, for which she received less than enthusiastic reviews. Still lean and sensuous at 57, Hatcher makes an ideal Morticia, and on opening night, appeared to have the time of her life performing in front of a live audience. When faced with an unexpected wardrobe malfunction before the show’s culminating tango, when she was unable to undo the string to her dress to reveal her still-shapely legs, she ad-libbed with a giggle, “Opening night skirt jitters!” to roaring approval from the audience. Hatcher is not a trained singer, but she is good enough to know her limitations and wisely spoke-sang words that may have been out of her vocal range. Her solo on the vaudeville-style “Just Around the Corner” is one of the show’s many musical highlights.
Playing Addams patriarch Gomez Addams is theater veteran Edward Staudenmayer. Given his 28-year tenure with the Forbidden Broadway franchise, you’d expect Staudenmayer to turbocharge his performance and that is exactly what we get. Staudenmayer’s Gomez is more Stephen Colbert than Raul Julia, minimizing the Latin roots of his character and just making him over-the-top funny, in the ’60s sitcom tradition of the hapless father in a matriarchal family. Staudenmayer’s splendid baritone is used in numbers like the joke-laden tango “Trapped” and the tender “Happy Sad,” and he and Hatcher provide the necessary chemistry to make Addams work. They are a delight together.
Diminutive Janelle Villas does a fine job as Wednesday Addams, who has grown from a precocious child in the TV sitcom to a rebelling teen in the musical, belting out “Pulled” while torturing her needy younger brother Pugsley and generally nailing all of her many laugh lines. As Pugsley, Leander Lewis is given an Eraserhead hair style and matches Villas with a strong, clear singing voice on his solo, “What If.”
Local funnyman and character actor Andrew Metzger returns home in one of his favorite roles as Uncle Fester and there is no actor who slips into a character as easily as he does. Using a throat-straining cackle reminiscent of TV’s Jackie Coogan (the best Fester), Metzger balances profane with sublime in his solo on the Debussy-esque “The Moon and Me,” elevated into a floating position while singing to his beloved, the full moon. (The ridiculous premise of falling in love with a celestial object is merely the result of joke-writing in reverse, starting with a memorable catchphrase from The Honeymooners and working your way backwards.)
The Addams Family‘s story arc is nothing new: mismatched parents of kids in love meet for an awkward dinner with catastrophic results. We’ve seen it in umpteen TV sitcoms as well as films like The Birdcage (and its Broadway equivalent La Cage Aux Folles) and Meet the Parents but the formula still works. Playing the “normal” Beineke family are the excellent Tristan Turner as Wednesday’s beau, Lucas, and Trisha Rapier and Benjamin Perez as Lucas’ parents. Rapier and Perez bear remarkable resemblances to Broadway/TV star Beth Howland and 9 to 5 villain Dabney Coleman and are perfectly suited to their respective characters. Voiceover actor Aaron LaPlante is splendid as the towering butler Lurch, providing a resonant basso voice to the show’s finale “Move Toward the Darkness.” Samantha Wynn Greenstone rounds out the cast as the wizened, potion-pitching Grandma and has a few uproarious moments of her own, including chortling a few lines from the TV theme song’s verse.
Ryan O’Connell’s pit orchestra is note-perfect and beautifully balanced. 3-D Theatricals provided the atmospheric set, costumes, and props.
The Addams Family plays through October 23 at the Kavli Theatre in the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks.