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by Michael L. Quintos
Sometimes going into a show with little to no expectations can be a good thing.
Prior to seeing the naughtily fun stage musical adaptation of The Addams Family—now scaring up laughs at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through June 17—I have not been, shall we say, adequately exposed to this particular brood's ouevre.
To borrow the title of one of the show's many catchy songs, here's a bit of full disclosure: I have little to no knowledge of the original comics, nor have I actually sat through an entire episode of the TV sitcom in reruns or the movie adaptations that were churned out (but I do, however, like most people, know of its ubiquitously catchy theme song, which is really just a by-product of my ease in absorbing pop culture).
As for the stage show itself, the few rumblings I have casually come across was that the original Broadway production—based more on the comics series rather than the TV show—was not as enthusiastically received as it should have been, despite enjoying boffo box office receipts.
These folks must have seen something different, because as far as I know—and from what I had observed first-hand during its recent L.A. Opening Night performance—is that this charmingly corny, ghoulishly droll musical comedy's much-overhauled National Tour production is genuinely hilarious from top to bottom. What a pleasant, wonderful surprise it was, then, to go into a show that had me and the audience literally LOL-ing throughout—a euphoric activity that has been far too absent in many of my own experiences with so-called "musical comedies" lately.
Based on a cartoon comic series first published in The New Yorker in 1938 by Charles Addams—which was then later adapted into the highly-popular TV sitcom most folks know this clan from—the stage version of The Addams Family features catchy music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party) that ties together a funny and quite relatable stand-alone original story by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Perhaps because the plot involves such a simple set-up (though nonetheless still intriguing), this show could just as well be it's own two-part episode of the sitcom.
In this musical that centers around a family that finds joy in the macabre and that celebrates the unhappiness that life (or lack thereof) brings, the clan's patriarch Gomez Addams (brilliantly played by Tony nominee Douglas Sills) is presented with a dilemma: trying to keep a hush-hush secret from his fabulously morbid wife Morticia (the elegant and witty Sara Gettelfinger), whom he has never lied to ever. The big secret? Their eldest daughter Wednesday (the goth-perfect Cortney Wolfson) has fallen in love with a "normal" dude named Lucas (Brian Justin Crum).
Hoping to acclimate each other's families in preparation for their pending nuptials, the young couple—who are, typically enough, both separately a little embarrassed by their own respective sets of "strange" parents—have decided to have both their families converge at the Addams' hidden manse for a little dinner party. Cultures and ideologies clash as the label of "normalcy" is challenged on both sides. And, of course, as one might expect in a story made in sitcom heaven (or, rather, hell in this case), all things don't go smoothly as planned.
Though this stage iteration is reportedly more inspired by Charles Addams' original single-panel cartoons rather than the ubiquitous television show, the staging and tone of this musical theater piece seems deeply rooted in the world of television comedy. From snappy one-liners, to the broad, over-the-top scenarios, to the machinations of how situations are set-up (assumptions, misunderstandings and secret schemes populate the story), this ADDAMS FAMILY contains about as many visual gags and cutesy, old-fashioned chuckles that would make it fit snugly within any of the TV Land staple's story arcs. It even has a tidy ending that wraps it all up in an adorably macabre bow.
It's this welcome, family sitcom-like familiarity—even to newbies like myself—that makes the musical so enjoyably comfortable. The jokes vary from corny puns to witty gems, all landing with perfectly-timed pauses for its live studio, er, theater audience to laugh heartily. Even the way the elaborate red retro curtain morphs into different shapes throughout the show "framing" different scenes and vignettes on varying parts of the stage is reminiscent of the 3:4 ratio-shape of an old school TV screen. And, of course, the cameo appearances of "Thing" and "Cousin Itt" add to the smiles.
What makes the whole thing even more entertaining is the fine cast that has been assembled to distribute the old-fashioned yuks. Out front are leads Sills and Gettelfinger who are both immensely talented singers, dancers and comedians. If you're not already a fan of both of these Broadway vets, then this show will definitely make you.
Sills' uber-hammy Gomez—channeling a gut-busting hybrid of Raul Julia, a latin Billy Crystal and Pepe Le Pew—is devilishly over-the-top. Gettelfinger's sexy, statuesque dominatrix-slash-mother hen is both convincingly intimidating and vulnerable, and can do a mean, aggressive tango. And is it vulgar to say that her, um, ample cleavage deserves their own Tony awards? Because they do. How she manages night-after-night without a nip-slip in those costumes is downright amazing!
The rest of the cast is also made up of actors with an innate gift for comedy and really impressive voices. Wolfson—last seen on this stage in LEGALLY BLONDE—has nicely transitioned into a meaty featured role and, damn, this young lady can saaang. She shares a nice rapport with her hottie beau Lucas, played by the strong-voiced Crum. Luke's parents played by Martin Vidnovic and Gaelen Gilliland also have some nice moments, particularly Gilliland who shines in her gutsy, growly solo during the ill-fated dinner scene.
Both Pippa Pearthree as Grandma Addams and Patrick D. Kennedy as little Pugsley Addams are terrific, while mostly-silent Tom Corbeil as zombie-man-servant Lurch is a delight in every appearance (wait until you hear this guy sing—wow). And stealing this show handily is Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester, the show's unofficial narrator and chief agitator, especially in his Act 2 aerial love duet with the moon (trust me, it's perhaps the show's most memorable highlight).
The undead ensemble also produces some wonderful tight harmonies while dancing Sergio Trujillo's dynamic choreography. And here's something I never would have expected in a musical comedy: perfect, tangible diction. I absolutely loved every precise, over-enunciated consonant this entire cast placed such importance on throughout the show.
Enveloped in gorgeously ghoulish designs by co-directors Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott, The Addams Family musical is, quite frankly, one of the most gosh-darn silliest things you'll ever experience in the theater. A funny yet tender blend of wickedness and heart, the show exudes enthusiasm for the creepy and cooky, the mysterious and spooky, and everything that's altogether oooky. While I cannot speak with authority on the merits of the show's original out-of-town and Broadway start ups, this insanely funny touring production is a definite must-see!
Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8ivemlq
Photo by Jeremy Daniel courtesy of Broadway/L.A. From top: Gomez (Douglas Sills) and Morticia (Sara Gettelfinger) share a passionate tango; the entire clan welcome their ancestors; Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond) lights up; Gomez (Sills) comforts Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson) and her new boyfriend Lucas (Brian Justin Crum).
Performances of the National Tour of The Addams Family at the Pantages Theatre continue through June 17, 2012 and are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. Tickets can be purchased online at www.BroadwayLA.org, by phone at 1-800-982-ARTS(2787) or in person at the Pantages box office (opens daily at 10am) and all Ticketmaster outlets.
The Pantages Theatre is located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Vine Street.
For more information, please visit www.BroadwayLA.org. For more information on the national tour, visit www.TheAddamsFamilyMusicalTour.com.