By Manning Harris
What other show can you think of that begins in a graveyard and immediately you start laughing? Why, it’s “The Addams Family,” of course, and the musical’s national touring company, presented by Theater of the Stars, is at the Fox through August 19.
Created by cartoonist Charles Addams for the New Yorker Magazine and then made hugely popular by the 1960’s TV show (“They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky”) and also in films, the Addams family’s characters have become iconic.
The show opened on Broadway in April 2010 and ran for over 700 performances; Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth were the original stars, as the happy couple Gomez and Morticia.
I missed the Broadway version, and even though I’m a big fan of Mr. Lane and Ms. Neuwirth, I think the current show at the Fox is delightful, and leads Douglas Sills and Sara Gettelfinger are sparkling, skilled, and magnetic. Moreover, Mr. Sills has a more flexible singing voice; his Gomez is funny, dashing, and full of charm. He gives the part true pathos.
“Nothing changes a family faster than a daughter in love,” reads the poster for the show. Yes, young Wednesday (Courtney Wolfson) has fallen for—gasp—a normal young man named Lucas (Brian Justin Crum); he does not share the Addams’ penchant for the ghoulish or the macabre, but he loves Wednesday. And despite his present lack of the, uh, adventurous, she loves him..
Younger brother Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) is jealous; his big sister won’t be available to torture him—darn it! Mother Morticia (I can’t give too much away here) is sort of left in the dark (normally her favorite environment) here; for there’s to be a “meet the parents” dinner at the Addams’ spooky Central Park manse, where there will be “Full Disclosure,” one of the songs. Grandma (Pippa Pearthree) is quite serene about the engagement (“I thought she was your grandmother,” whispers Gomez to Morticia.) Just another evening with the folks.
The acting is uniformly first-rate. Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond) is over the moon about the moon—a brilliant comic sequence. Lurch (Tom Corbeil) is perfection and reveals an operatic basso profundo singing voice. Lucas’ parents, played by Martin Vidnovic and Gaelen Gilliland, are hilarious.
The book is by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; music and lyrics, Andrew Lippa. Choreography, Sergio Trujillo; direction, Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch; production supervised by Jerry Zaks.
Unexpectedly (by me), the show works on several levels; the ambiguity and juxtaposition of the morbidly macabre and the zingy, bawdy humor; and they say you can’t be truly happy in life until you lose the fear of death. Well, this show is a crash course in achieving that mind-set!
I did not expect to have this much fun. So go and luxuriate in “the intoxicating smell of the graveyard,” as Gomez says. Experience the ecstasy of “darkness, grief, and unspeakable sorrow” (Morticia). And laugh at all of it. “The Addams Family” is a breath of fresh air (they’d hate my saying that), and oddly liberating.
For tickets and information, visit Theaterofthestars.com.