Premiering their new black box theater space off Glenbridge Avenue on the West Side of Providence with a Halloween musical, the Academy Players of Rhode Island put on a fun and entertaining show, albeit with a plot so thinly obvious as to amount to deliberate self-parody, in The Addams Family Musical. Something of the flip side to The Fantasticks, it centers on two young lovers trying to get their families to bless their plans to marry. The Addamses are a rather unusual family, doing such things as raising their dead ancestors for celebrations, while the Beinekes are far more ordinary.
Originally a series of single-panel gag cartoons in The New Yorker drawn by Charles Addams beginning in 1938, The Addams Family is best known today because of a television situation comedy that ran for only two seasons from 1964 to 1966, but then entered syndication seemingly forever, spawning animated series, video games, and live-action films. Neither the macabre family nor its members had names until they were needed for the television series and a line of dolls, and it was the doll maker who called the daughter “Wednesday” from the old folk rhyme that included the line “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”
Although Addams was repeatedly barraged with proposals for a live theatrical version even before his death in 1988, it took until 2010 for anything to come to fruition, and it was this musical that made it to Broadway. At one point Addams worked to develop a play with colleague Wolcott Gibbs, theater critic at The New Yorker, but nothing came of it. According to biographer Linda Davis, one of the worst such proposals came in a letter from an obscure writer in 1961 suggesting that the family surname be “Monster,” that the children be named “Rack” and “Ruin,” and that the mansion have a wreath of marijuana plants on the front door for Christmas; Addams scribbled “save in case of blackmail” on the letter and filed it away.
Fortunately, the musical employs the characters as we now know them. Jack B. Klaus plays a stellar Gomez Addams as the host of a party everyone is just dying to attend. Jessica Gates plays his wife Morticia. John Sheppard is outstanding as the comic Uncle Fester, not the first man to fall in unrequited love with an inflatable companion, but among the funniest. Grandma (Jackie Pion) would hardly be out of place running a meth lab in a trailer if she could remember where she put it. Wednesday Addams (Chelsea Morgan) and Lucas Beineke (Riley Houlihan) are the moon-crossed lovers. Young son Pugsley (Alex LeBlanc) is wonderfully heartbroken at the prospect that his big sister, preoccupied with her new romance, will have less time to torture him on the rack. Jacob Farnum as Lurch, the butler, does a superb job with an effectively silent pantomime role that steals a couple of scenes. Lucas’ father Mal (Joseph Luca) and mother Alice (Meryn Flynn) are not quite as normal as they seem at first, and actually have a lot to learn from the seemingly strange Addamses. A large number of extras, many of them children, play a wide variety of roles ranging from ghosts to stars.
The music is intended to be light, but some of the lyrics are very witty. Puns and allusions abound for an audience immersed in pop culture from the 1950s to the 1980s. Choreographer Dante Sciarra has created dance numbers that echo genres from the Charleston to the Bunny Hop. While the show’s music is weak, written to sound like a lot of other things that it isn’t quite, the singing and performance are generally strong, especially Klaus’ Gomez and Flynn’s Alice.
The new cinderblock theater space is not friendly toward musicals, with an HVAC system that sounds as if it belongs in a warehouse, and the troupe should seriously consider using wireless microphones and amplification in the future. It’s a cozy space, however, with 64 seats plus a few cabaret tables for four, so most of the vocals were able to overcome the obstacle.
The Addams Family is by design intended to appeal to anyone who remembers the television show, and it does a very good job of that. Even for those too young to have seen it in syndication, it can be enjoyed on its own terms. At community theater ticket prices, The Addams Family could be one of the best values of the season. It’s the ideal date night for 30-somethings, but it’s also appropriate for children who are mature enough not to be scared of Halloween and who can tolerate a really sappy love story.
The Addams Family Musical, directed by Rita Maron, Academy Players Q2Q Blackbox Theatre, 202B King Philip Street Bldg. 2 (use Button Hole Golf Course for GPS), Providence. Thu 10/23, 10/30, Fri 10/24 (sold out), 10/31, Sat 10/25, 11/1, 7:00pm; Sun 10/26, 11/2, 4pm. Ticket sales are online only, no tickets available at the door. http://www.academyplayersri.org/the-addams-family-1.html
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