This holiday season, Orange County found itself playing host to two very different families that couldn't be more disparate from one another -- well, at least on the surface.
Over in Anaheim Hills, the Chance Theater once again offered its touching revival of LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL, an overlooked little family-friendly gem based on Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel. And further down south, the first national tour of the wicked musical comedy THE ADDAMS FAMILY: THE MUSICAL (based on the comic strip and subsequent TV and film adaptations of the same name) is finishing up its final stop at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
Sure, the two stage musicals -- both of which are enhanced adaptations featuring infamous characters from previously published works -- are as different as night and day in terms of mood, tone, and execution. But by sheer coincidence, both shows' plots are centered around strong-willed, tenacious daughters that, more than anything, want to rock the status quo of their pre-determined lives. Of course, while one young lady revels in only making up wild, gory stories filled with "blood and guts," the other actually lives for such gory, real-life horrors (it's sorta the family business).
But as both musicals begin their narratives, we find an unexpected convergence of themes: a daughter in each family wants desperately to break free from their respective societal "norms."
For LITTLE WOMEN's wordsmith Jo March (Erika C. Miller), normalcy means whatever is expected of young American women of the 1860's: time-honored female etiquette, proper courtship, and unwavering subservience. But stubborn, steadfast Jo would rather ditch the frilly, girly stuff her sisters are more into, and would rather just play side-by-side with the big boys and best them at their own game. Her true passion -- her "finest dream" -- is to be a published writer, which in her time was a profession that frequently shuns the fairer gender.
Lucky for Jo, her immediate family -- including her mother Marmee (Eloise Coopersmith) and sisters Beth (Tasha Tormey), Meg (Laura M. Hathaway) and Amy (Valerie Sloan / Kelsey Jones) -- not only supports her dreams wholeheartedly, they even play along and volunteer as "actors" in Jo's dramatic attic renderings of her stories. But not everyone is as charmed by Jo's tendencies.
In terms of THE ADDAMS FAMILY, normalcy for them is to be draped in the ghoulish cobwebs of dastardly deeds that are, well, creepy and cooky... mysterious and spooky (snap, snap). It's this deliciously wicked lifestyle -- or should we say, um, deadstyle -- that serves as the bedrock for their own brand of eerie family values instilled by a quirky clan headed up by Gomez (the brilliant Douglas Sills) and Morticia (the amazing Sara Gettelfinger) Addams.
This outright giddiness for morbid things have clearly been passed down from their undead ancestors to their own brethren: their torture-loving son Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) and their eldest daughter, bow-and-arrow expert Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson). To punctuate the wackiness, their hidden compound also houses Grandma (Pippa Pearthree), Uncle Fester (scene-stealer Blake Hammond), and their zombie butler Lurch (Tom Corbeil).
But what can possibly throw a wrench into their situation? Well, the opposite of weird: Wednesday has -- gasp! -- fallen in love with a "normal" boy, Lucas (Curtis Holbrook). Even more serious... Lucas' "normal" parents Mal (Martin Vidnovic) and Alice (the awesome Gaelen Gilliland) are coming over to the Addams' gruesome mansion for a meet-the-parents dinner from hell. To complicate things further, Wednesday -- newly enthused with yellow dresses, puppy dogs, and unicorns -- asks her dad to keep the secret of her engagement to Lucas from her mom Morticia. Uh oh.
The fact that both musicals -- different as they are -- highlight in their own distinct way someone overcoming their societal barriers in order to pursue their true selves (i.e., their true desires) isn't such a shock reminds us just how universal such pursuits are, especially in the cannon of musical theater. Much like Elphaba, Effie White and Elle Woods yearned for a life that "exceeds their finest dreams," both Jo and Wednesday would risk anything to get what they want, and in the span of two acts, usually much of it goes well all around.
Likable and unquestionably entertaining in their own ways, both musicals, sadly, didn't blow the roof off on Broadway. LITTLE WOMEN -- despite the novel's fanbase, a truly beguiling score, and the glowing presence of Sutton Foster, Maureen McGovern, and Megan McGinnis -- lasted only 137 performances; THE ADDAMS FAMILY -- despite healthy box office receipts -- was initially panned by critics and had to be re-tooled almost completely for the national tour incarnation (A big YAY for that). I, for one, am glad both shows found new life beyond New York, and these two productions exemplify each show's strengths quite well.