Sunday, February 14, 2016

Faulkner: "The Addams Family: Musical"

The Faulkner University Dinner Theatre opened The Addams Family: Musical on Friday night to an enthusiastic sold-out house. With a mediocre book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, the 2010 Broadway show benefits here from Angela Dickson's confident direction, fine costumes, and energetic choreography, from Matt Dickson's eerily evocative and well-constructed sets, and from a strong cast of triple-threat actors-singers-dancers.

Based on Charles Addams's New Yorker magazine's single-panel cartoons, and the popular 1960s television program, the full complement of Addams family characters is on display, with all their macabre inclinations combined with close-knit family values. -- Here are the instantly recognizable clan: mischievous masochist Pugsley [Lucy Wilson], sadistic Wednesday [Brittney Johnston], scatterbrained Grandma [Emily Woodring], good-natured romantic dreamer Uncle Fester [Morgan Baker], almost mute butler Lurch [Tony Davison], somber stone-faced Morticia [Alex Rikerd], passionate Latin-sophisticate Gomez [Brandtley McDonald], and a Chorus of "dead, undead, and undecided" Ancestors -- even Thing makes an appearance -- and the extended family as we know it is intact.

The plot hinges on Wednesday's plan to marry a "normal" young man from Ohio named Lucas Beineke [Blake Mitchell]. She conscripts Gomez to keep her engagement a secret from Morticia until the two families meet for dinner at the Addams's spooky mansion. She is her mother's daughter, after all, and knows that Morticia could spoil everything for her; but in a family that prides itself on not having any secrets, Gomez is conflicted.

So it is agreed that everyone will act "normal" in welcoming their guests. When Lucas's parents Mal [Chris Kelly] and Alice [Mattie Earls] arrive, it soon becomes clear that "normal" may be interpreted in various ways. -- Both families behave "normally", and exhibit shared concerns. For all of the built-in strangeness of the Addams clan, they and the Beinekes display the skeletons in their respective closets, eccentric uncles and grandparents, while demonstrating sibling rivalries, trust issues, parental concerns for their children, and a sincere bond of family.

The story and staging are promising at first, showcasing the ensemble strength of Faulkner's company in "When You're an Addams"; and it has some clever numbers like "Pulled" in which Pugsley enjoys being stretched on "the rack" torture device even more than Wednesday does in administering it. -- "Fester's Manifesto" in Act I about the importance of love is delivered in earnest and followed in his Act II charming declaration of love in "The Moon and Me".

However, predictable plot complications, several contrived and unfocussed digressions, and creaky groan-worthy jokes and pop culture references, tend to bog down the otherwise enjoyable goings-on.

These notwithstanding, the performances and characterizations are top-notch. Mr. Baker as Uncle Fester (an occasional narrator of the play for no apparent reason) is a soft-hearted and thoroughly likable sort. Mr. Kelly and Ms. Earls provide a down-to-earth quality that is a fine counterpoint to the other-worldly Addams clan. Ms. Wilson's Pugsley is impish with a deliciously cruel frame of mind.

Ms. Johnston shows her acting strengths as she struggles with her "normal" desires for marriage and family against the darker side of her nature, switching from petulant to aggressive to sincerely loving Lucas, she is matched with Mr. Mitchell's credible and "very normal" attraction to Wednesday as he tries to be supportive to her demands. Together, they manage to engage audience approval; we wish them well.

Ms. Rikerd has the look and attitude of Morticia down to a fine level, serving as a counterpoint to Mr. McDonald's far more flamboyant Gomez. Both put in strong performances, and have many excellent moments individually and together, but their all too infrequent moments of romantic connection, especially in "Tango De Amor" and when Gomez kisses up and down Morticia's arm, cry out for more extended stage business to enhance their relationship.

Mr. Brandtley, especially, commands every scene he is in. His powerful singing voice is matched with charisma that allows him to demonstrate a broad range of emotions. His Act II rendition of "Happy Sad" with Wednesday, in which he truthfully depicts the contradictory feelings of a "normal" father who is coming to grips with the fact that he has a grown-up daughter who must be allowed to make her own decisions, is the single most touching moment of this production.

It is in scenes such as this that the talents of the Faulkner company go beyond the limitations of the script, and which make this version of The Addams Family: Musical a charmingly entertaining evening of theatre.