Irving — Designer production meetings for The Addams Family – A New Musical must have been a blast. The MainStage Irving-Las Colinas production at the Irving Arts Center’s Dupree Theatre is filled with visual surprises thanks to the multi-media visual design of Nate Davis and the scenic design of Clare Floyd DeVries. Those dead/ancestor people are fabulously styled in Michael Robinson’s costumes with makeup by Donatelle Mascari. Their production numbers are among the best musical moments, and without looking at the program one could tell from the overall style—design, staging, little references to the original story—that this is a Michael Serrecchia-directed production. Musical direction is provided by Cody Dry.
The Addams Family is based on the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. This musical is very close to the television series that aired from 1964 to '66 and was based on a fictitious family of characters that were created for a cartoon series by Charles Addams. Cartoon origins present a challenge to a composer, to write songs that have a relaxed playfulness but avoid childishness. For this story, the music needed to be somewhat stylized without becoming cliché. Panache is necessary for Gomez, while for Uncle Fester, the song must be sweet. Lippa’s score is neither memorably hummable nor sophisticated, but it suits the characters and reflects the overall tone of the story.
In the original story, the head of the household, Gomez, was ridiculously wealthy with no real explanation provided for how so much wealth was accumulated. He was married to Morticia. Though it was never actually stated, her appearance and mannerisms suggested she was a vampire. They had two children, little Wednesday, and a son, Pugsley. Lurch was the butler that bore a strong resemblance to Frankenstein. Uncle Fester was originally Morticia's uncle but in later iterations of the series was Gomez's brother. He was sweet and a little dangerous but lovable. Thing was this character that was horrible to be seen so it (Itself) always lurked in the background, observing the goings on of the family (in the TV series it was represented by a hand that would pop out of boxes on tables). Grandma was originally Grandma Frump.
In this musical version of The Addams Family, the storyline is new, but the family’s core characters and their quirky defining traits remain basically the same. Daughter Wednesday (Caroline Ellis) is all grown up and in love with Lucas Beineke (Michael McCray), an “outsider” from an ordinary family. Wednesday and Lucas plan to marry, but Wednesday wants to delay telling her mother, Morticia (Olivia de Guzman Emile). Instead, she tells her father, Gomez (Michael A. Robinson) and swears him to secrecy, creating a conundrum for him because the one thing Morticia cannot forgive is spousal secrecy. Wednesday decides there should be a special family dinner, after which she and Lucas can announce their plans. She manages to persuade her mother to invite Lucas’ parents, Mal Beineke (James Chandler) and Alice Beineke (Mary Gilbreath-Grim). Eager to appear supportive, the Beinekes agree to come to dinner with the hopes of learning a little more about the young woman Mal describes as “named after a day in the week.”
Dinner is served. Without ruining the ‘what happened next’, it is enough of a clue to say the final musical numbers of Act I are “Full Disclosure Part 1,” “Waiting,” and “Full Disclosure Part 2.” Those are outstanding numbers, in particular the Mary Gilbreath-Grim segment as the mother of the wannabe groom. She has the wow assignment and she nails it.
The extended Addams family still includes Grandma (Megan Kelly-Bates), Uncle Fester (Stephen Bates), and Wednesday’s little brother Pugsley (Javier Casanova, Jr.). Serving them devotedly are Lurch (Russell Batchelor) and Cousin Itt, known as Thing in the original story (Adam Henley). There are unexpected developments during the second act. They are supported by an array of effects that remind one of why fantasy and science fiction are so much fun. It is safe to say that Stephen Bates soars as Uncle Fester, literally and figuratively. The second act “Opening” and “Just Around the Corner” are signature Serrecchia stagings, complete with referential props that might be too much in a different show, but work perfectly in this comedy.
Three elements did not work as intended during the Sunday matinee seen for this review. During the ensemble numbers, the balance between the orchestra and the performers was good. However, during the solos and duets, the orchestra was too loud in several spots, overpowering the vocalists. Ellis has a big, Broadway-like sound that was easily heard over the orchestra but McCray was sometimes lost. One of the better-balanced numbers was “Happy Sad”; Robinson is charming throughout as Gomez and his delivery through this song is just right.
The second element that did not work as intended was an almost-happened costume uh-oh. Emile as Morticia wears a gorgeous purple gown, however during the first act choreography, the deep décolletage came distractingly close to providing a wider than desired reveal.
Lastly, fog can be a tricky thing onstage. It’s hard to know what’s going to happen until it happens. Kudos to the cast and orchestra (and audience) for soldiering on through what was a thick, aggressively billowing fog at one point. Two or three people exited the theater on Sunday but the majority of the audience remained seated. Fog appears again toward the end of the production but with much less gusto.
Yes, there were a few blips. But then, Batchelor as Lurch starts to sing and you wish you could hear a lot more from him. What a voice!
One of the things most appreciated about this production is that for the most part, the actors allow the humor to come through the material, which is very different from playing the comedy, often a temptation. This is an enjoyable show that leaves one smiling.
Also, there are those really awesome dead/ancestor people.