Since its inception in 2009, the musical comedy of the family with a taste for the macabre, The Addams Family, has gone through so many tweaks and changes, depending on the venue, it’s probable that no two stagings were ever quite the same. Out of town tryouts smoothed some issues; an early run in Chicago resulted with more changes; the 2010 Broadway opening dropped much of the Chicago score and replaced it with new songs; while the following national tour restructured things even further, revising songs, re-arranging the orchestrations, and re-writing the book. The whole business concerning a giant squid called Bernice never left Broadway.
The version now playing at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria until July 6 is closest to the revised touring production, which is a good thing. Having seen some of those previous stagings, the appeal of The Addams’ has always felt elusive. The show never worked. Yet somehow, with this new, handsome looking production at ABT, something has finally clicked. It’s as if all the things that were wrong with the musical before have fallen into place. And, of course, name recognition in regional productions means everything.
Make no mistake, The Addams Family will never be great musical theatre. Despite the tweaking and all the revisions, the score remains mediocre and the plot is still basic; it’s like a single episode of the TV show with one major conflict; a dinner party and its aftermath. The show assumes that everyone knows the creepy characters and their various peculiar mannerisms; there’s no backstory or introduction to individual characters or an explanation of how they became who they are. Instead, the book goes straight to the issue at hand.
Young daughter Wednesday (Jasmine Bassham) is in love and wants to marry, but her intended, a young mid-westerner called Lucas (Nick Williams) isn’t quite the sort Wednesday’s parents would welcome into the family. He’s normal. As Uncle Fester (Lionel Ruland) explains directly to the audience, the ghostly family ancestors will not be allowed to return to their graves until true love finds a way. Exactly how those spirits can help is never really clear, but their presence is always there, lurking in the Addams house, forever observing the unfolding events and joining in the songs.
Much of the dialog, while obvious, is still comical. When Gomez (a thickly accented Brad York who appears to be having a ball) and Morticia (a sexy, deadpan Renee Kathleen Koher in her best ABT role) reminisce of their first date when seeing Death of A Salesman, “How we laughed,” responds Morticia. Then there’s the groaner. When the parents reflect on how fast their daughter Wednesday is growing, Gomez adds, “She’ll be Thursday before we know it.” And best of all, when boyfriend Lucas (Nick Williams) explains what he does for a living to Gomez – he’s a medical examiner who enjoys looking inside dead people’s bodies – the head of the Addams household declares aloud with admiration to his daughter, “Where did you find him?”
Why this Danny Gorman directed production works as well as it does is a simple matter of style over substance. The premise of The Addams Family isn’t so much a story, it’s a single comic situation that occurs in the first half and ties up all the misunderstandings in the second. But it’s the casting, the energy, Kurtis Overby’s fun choreography, Adam Berger’s excellent music direction, and the show’s overall design that surprises. Nate Bertone’s set, beginning with the decaying, crusty curtains that rise on a fog infested ancestral graveyard then opens up into the massive interior of the Addams’ mansion is outstanding, highlighted by Zach Blane’s lighting design.
Even more important is how much fun the cast itself appears to be having. “Ah, the intoxicating smell of the graveyard,” declares Gomez after a deep breath. Note that the role of Pugsley is played on alternate performances by Aaron McCaskill and Corban Adams. While all male leads are uniformly well cast, including Nicholas Dana Ryland as the zombie butler Lurch, and Mark Woodward as Lucas’ father Mal (“I think we’ve landed in weird city,” he insists upon entering the Addams mansion) the strength of the show is really due to the ladies.
In addition to the curvaceous Koher, Barbara McBain is a funny, feisty Grandma Adams (“My mother?” asks Gomez. “I thought she was your mother!”) while Lynzee Foreman as Alice stops the show with a very funny turn during the dinner table song Full Disclosure, proving that in addition to her top-notch singing and dancing, Foreman is also a talented comedienne. “You want to act like a tool,” she snarls at her husband, “Go and sleep in the shed!” But it’s Jasmine Bassham’s Wednesday that stands out.
The revised script from some of those earlier incarnations during the show’s tryouts now revolves more around the creepy teenager than the other members of the family, and Bassham infuses Wednesday with such appeal, it’s little wonder why an ordinary, likable guy like Lucas would be willing to overlook Wednesday’s weirdness of setting fire to a visiting Jehovah’s Witness and want to marry her. All together now, Da-da-da-dum (snap, snap).
The Addams Family continues at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria until July 6, then moves to Herberger Theatre Center in Phoenix from July 12 until July 28.
Pictures Courtesy of Scott Samplin