‘The Addams Family – a new musical’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by November 23, 2016

‘The Addams Family – a new musical’ is based on the 19th Century, Gothic characters created by Charles Addams for his cartoon strips. In 2007, a group of producers obtained the rights from the Charles Addams’ Foundation; however, The Foundation retained control, insisting that their musical be based solely on Addams’ cartoons, not the TV series.

Playwrights Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice wrote the hilarious storyline, Andrew Lippa, who was later nominated for a Tony Award for ‘Best Original Score’, then added the music and lyrics. Lippa has brilliantly written the score to match each character’s personality – e.g. Gomez a Spanish Flamenco-style melody.

The $15 million production (co-incidentally produced by Phoenix Entertainment) ran for 722 performances on Broadway, grossing over $62 million, third only to ‘Wicked’ and ‘The Lion King’. The Broadway production starred Brooke Shields as Morticia.

The Australian Premiere was in Sydney, March 2013, with John Waters as Gomez Addams.

Now is your chance to meet this ghoulish family in their two and a half hour, offbeat production, presented by Phoenix Theatre Inc. and Dark Psychic Productions at the Phoenix Theatre, 435 Carrington Street, Hamilton Hill on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8.00 until 10th December. There is one matinée on 4th December at 2.00 pm.

This show’s selected charity is Cystic Fibrosis (a debilitating genetic lung condition), so please buy a programme and give a donation to this worthwhile cause. Thank you.

The entrance foyer is lined with empty picture frames, gravestones, ‘Thing’ in a box, with various black magic and torture implements. Even the coffee counter had jars of ‘creepy specimens’ as tasty treats. Huge amount of work, but a great scene setter for what is ahead – the work supervised by Jessica Tarnowy, with props supplied for this and the musical by Chantal Kerkhof, Krispin Maesalu, Ryan S McNally, Allan Veal and Pat McMahon.

The set, designed by Ryan McNally, was simple but extremely effective. There were walkways off each side of the stage, around the orchestra pit, to the front of the audience.

The curtains open to show a decrepit, weatherboard house with a glow coming from the attic window. In front of the house, next to a wooden bridge, is Bernice, a 2-metre high Venus flytrap. At each side of the stage is a cobweb covered stone arch. There are various plinths for the ‘dead’ – as opposed to ‘living’ – statues.

The production manager was Alison Kovacs, who with stage manager Nikita Harwood ensured a fast and effective stage crew (Daniel Rooney, Eleanor Weller-Brown and Luke Locantro). Slick work. The technical director, Alexander Coutts-Smith, designed both the soundscape and, aided by Krispin Maesalu, the lighting. Benjamin Albert added the fun sound effects; the sound operator was Simone Ostle.

The live orchestra are in the ‘pit’ in front of the stage. The musicians were conducted by the musical director, Krispin Maesalu who covered the various scores from soft love songs to the loud, creepy and slightly discordant tunes required when the ancestors were around. The reed section comprised Jeni Stevens, Trish Telcik and Talitha Dunn, the brass players were Paul Marion and Emma Mondy. Chris Johnston was on guitar, with Josh Haines and Ethan Walters on keyboard. The string section was Benjamin Cooke, Amanda Reynolds and Greg Critchley.  Drums and castanets played by Jake Isard. The percussionist was also assistant musical director, Ben Albert. With the musicians facing a side wall instead of directly at the audience, I found the instrument balance better than normal.

 

       The orchestra strikes up their Overture with the well-known Addams Family refrain. As they play, a hand – ‘Thing’ – comes out of the centre of the proscenium curtains and beckons us to join the Family. Poised on a plinth to the side of the stage is a one-legged woman, ‘the Sideshow’ (Sally McMaster).

       The curtains open and reveal the Addams Family on their way to the cemetery. Even after many years of marriage, Gomez Addams (Paul Reed) and his wife, Morticia (Holly Denton) are still as passionate over each other as ever. Lanky and bald, Uncle Fester (Callum Siegmund-Bant) and young Pugsley (Charlie Martin) are excited about the annual family gathering and all of the decaying corpses they will meet. Sadly, if Wednesday gets married she will no longer be available to give Pugsey his daily torture on the rack. Scruffy and coarse Grandma (Devetta Ridgwell) enjoys meeting all of the family members, many of whom have been dead for centuries. Butler Lurch (Declan Roden) keeps her company.

      This year however, the daughter, Wednesday (Rosie McGavock) would rather be with her new boyfriend. She has fallen madly in love with caring Lucas Beineke (Matthew Arnold), who is unfortunately ‘normal’! Gomez and Morticia are horrified, until they discover that he wants to be an embalmer.

     Wednesday invites Lucas and his parents to the Addams’ Towers for a meal. Whilst the group were led in by the ballerina (Tabitha Kerlin), a gypsy (Chantal Kerkhof) with crystal ball in hand cast a spell. The straight-laced, passionless father, Mal (Lee Wilson) and Lucas’s inappropriately dressed Mum, Alice (Claudia Van Zeller) are looking forward to meeting their prospective daughter in law. On arrival, the ancestors were lined up on their plinths; there were the abandoned bride (Melanie Doust), the flapper (Charlotte Williams), the Indian (Bernadette Ward) and the courtesan (Steph Hickey). The gravedigger ancestor (Pat McMahon) took an instant dislike to Lucas, and had to be stopped before an incident arose. Uncle Fester calls for an intermezzo as he plays his ukulele, but nothing can prepare the visitors for ‘The Game’ at the end of the dinner.

      How can Wednesday and Lucas prove their love for each other with an apple? Or will the Grim Reaper (Craig Rickards) be called?

     The ancestor ‘flight attendant’ (Sara Urban) brought a smile on the curtain call.

 Other ancestors that visited the family included a puritan (Zack Inglis), the conquistador (Christopher Doney), the soldier (Allan Veal), the convict (Shaun Griffin) and the gambler (Julian Monck). Every actor and ‘ancestor’ extra had their moment of glory in this show, whether dancing, singing or merely their creepy presence adding wonderfully to the show.

 

The director, Ryan S McNally acted as a mentor for his assistant, Eleanor Weller-Brown. Ryan is certainly not one to accept ‘average’ or even ‘good’, he demands the best and then helps the cast give him the best and more. The script was extremely funny, and the cast delivered the subtle jokes perfectly. Gomez and Morticia’s love rapport was brilliant, even though delivered in Spanish, like ‘querida’ (darling) and ‘cara’ (my heart) it was when he spoke French that Morticia melted.

A couple of years ago, community theatre musicals would have one good singer, and the remainder would be able to dance OR sing. Recently I have noticed that invariably, all of the main characters in a musical can sing and dance brilliantly. The singing in this production was WAAPA standard, powerful, huge vocal range and a natural – full body – delivery. These stars strutted the stage, and engaged the audience from the moment the curtains opened. Even the fun songs like Uncle Fester’s, who sounding a little like Kermit, sang a beautiful song to the moon. Lurch’s song was possibly a unique event in Australian theatre.

The high quality choreography covered many genres from soft shoe, high kicking and a tango d’amour. The choreographers, Sarah-Rose Kelly, Ryan S McNally and Steph Hickey, amazingly managed to control this large cast, with several groups dancing simultaneously. The dancers were energetic and did not miss a beat.

With more than two dozen characters, all very different, the costume section (Ryan McNally, Rebeka Thomas and Rhiannon Thomas) had a great deal of work. Each costume was a masterpiece, well-tailored and created with imagination, whilst still ensuring a faithful reproduction of the character we all know so well. The makeup girls, Jessica Langdon and Amy Heath Murdoch, gave the finishing touches. For shows like this, the audience have a definite expectation as to what the Family should look like, and they were immaculately represented.

Superb acting, packed with energy and great fun. I expect rave reviews.

Despite this play being about all things macabre, I think that any children over nine would love the characters. Be warned, several performances are already sold out.