Photo by Steve DiBartolomeo
By Philip Pearce
THE ADDAMS FAMILY, a popular, well-performed, and predictable musical now playing at Cabrillo Stage in Aptos, is about some gothic horror stereotypes who started life in a series of New Yorker cartoons back in the mid-20th century. This off-beat cartoon family included two children who celebrated Christmas by decapitating their dolls and teddy bears with a new toy guillotine. The oldsters meantime observed the holiday by climbing up to an attic ledge with a cauldron of boiling oil to be poured down on some merry carolers gathered on the doorstep of their creaky gothic mansion. The humor lay in the ways this tribe of ghouls blithely performed creepy atrocities as if they were carrying on normal middle-American family activities.
As a running joke aimed at both folksy middle class social attitudes and the clichés of B-picture horror films the idea worked well in its cartoon format. To stretch it into a two and a quarter hour Broadway musical seems to me creates a mountain sized entertainment mole hill.
I have to add that I’m a voice crying in the wilderness. The production at the Crocker is directed by Bobby Marchessault with an eye to slick and well-mounted popular appeal and that’s what it clearly got last Friday night. Every number in Andrew Lippa’s routine musical score, every plot twist and punch line in the lively but hollow book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, earned tumultuous shouts, shrill whistles, and thunderous applause.
The script hangs the plot on daughter Wednesday Addams’ announcement that she’s engaged to a dull but “normal” middle-westerner named Lucas Beineke. That makes it clear what lies ahead. As with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner or Abie’s Irish Rose, a nice young couple’s love is going to break down strong cultural barriers between their respective families. By the end of Act 1, of course, it hasn’t happened. Wednesday and Lucas are at odds and so are her parents, Morticia and Gomez, and his parents, Mal and Alice. Act 2 covers the reunion of the three sets of warring lovers.
The performances are fine. As papa Gomez Addams, Adam Saucedo acts impressively and sings with power and flexibility. The character’s Hispanic persona has had an influence on the musical score, which leans heavily on tango rhythms and a final, explosive flamenco routine between Gomez and his wife Morticia, played by gorgeous and spooky Danielle Crook.
Young Michael Navarro is wonderful as the junior Addams offspring, a small, charming masochist thug named Pugsley. He figures in one of the few sequences that actually reflect the spirit of the New Yorker cartoons. Singing a song called “Pulled” he is tied to a makeshift rack in the nursery while his sister uses a remote control wheel to stretch him, a process he is obviously delighted to have happen. This and another somewhat peripheral sequence involving a rocket to the moon are high points. It’s when the central plot drones into action that you feel, despite all the offbeat trimmings, that you’ve seen and heard all of this before and too often.
Gabrielle Filloux and Ryland Gordon do well by the conventional roles of Wednesday and her boyfriend Lucas. Act 2 even opens up some unpredictable material for the two of them as they work out ways she can shoot an arrow à la William Tell through the apple on his head. Gordon, along with Benjamin Canant and Jessica Ellithorpe, who play his parents Mal and Alice, sometimes struggles with the tendency of Michael J. McGushin’s ten-piece orchestra to drown out singing voices.
Lurching and bobbing like a windblown balloon, John G. Bridges tackles the role of the super-weird Uncle Fester with his usual unflagging energy. Not to be outdone by all the surrounding romance, he admits that he too is in love, in his case with the Moon, “though we haven’t actually dated yet.” The following sequence, after he finally links up with his lunar beloved, turns out to be the goofiest piece of scenic magic in the show!
David Murphy is effectively tall, dark and menacing as the family butler Lurch, who can only speak in guttural growls until he bursts into guttural song and lyrics in the final moments of the show.
The printed program reveals that the off-stage Deborah McArthur is young and attractive, which may be what makes her on stage performance as 110-year-old Granny Addams a shade too full of squeaky and grimacing energy.
A busy singing and dancing ensemble of Addams ancestors rise from their graves in the opening sequence of an annual Addams family visit to a local cemetery. These ghosts return throughout the action as advisers, reactors, mentors and dance partners to the live characters. They are costumed by Chiara Cola in spectacular historic styles ranging from the American Revolution to World War 1. Like Skip Epperson’s spoof gloomy sets, the costumes have an off-beat originality I wish were present in the too familiar and predictable ins and outs of the script and the score.
But maybe an easy familiarity is what the writers aimed at in their words and music. Maybe, like Seinfeld and the Beverly Hillbillies, the Addamses have become such mainstays of our national culture that there’s no longer any need for shock or surprise.
The show continues through July 9th.