Sunday, October 10, 2021

WOBT: "The Addams Family: a new musical comedy"

First-time director Hunter Smith cut his performance teeth at Faulkner University, and furthered his acting career at the Wetumpka Depot, The Millbrook Community Players, and others; so he shows up here at Prattville's Way Off Broadway Theatre to deliver a well-crafted, energetic production of The Addams Family: a new musical comedy.

Abetted by spooky costumes [Kevin Mohajerin] and set pieces [Tanner Parrish], strong musical direction [James Keith Posey], and vibrant choreography [Alex Rikerd and Mr. Posey], as well as strong performances by his 22-member acting company who are only occasionally placed in overcrowded staging, it looks like Mr. Smith is off to a good start.

As a lead-up to Halloween, The Addams Family is an appropriately ghoulish selection for the season, and WOBT has taken appropriate COVID measures to ensure the safety of its limited audiences in this sold-out run.

Based on cartoon characters created by Charles Addams, and the cult-classic television show, the sometimes plodding plot/book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa are filled with both the familiar characterizations of the principal characters and clever dialogue references to contemporary social concerns.

The characters, for all of their otherworldly eccentricities, have always been rendered as "normal"; their domestic lives are much like ours, but with a tongue-in-cheek stamp that is meant to make us reflect on our own eccentricities. -- So, when Wednesday [Kristen VanderWal] falls for the normal Lucas Beineke [Tanner Parrish], and invites him and his parents Mal [Eric Arvidson] and Alice [Kayli McNally] to dinner at the Addams' home...well, you can imagine the result.

But we discover, as do they, that "normal" is a part of shared family values, and not the exclusive domain of regular folks like the Beinekes. Just like the Beinekes, Gomez [a charismatic James Keith Posey] and Morticia [Alex Rikerd reprises the role with comfortable pizzaz] have trust issues; Pugsley [Amy Lynn Miller] has a teenager's doubts; Grandma [Melanie Boulware] is unabashedly frank; Wednesday and Lucas are challenged by meaningful conversations about their relationship; and Fester [Sam Wallace gives a touching idiosyncratic performance as a "moonstruck" devotee]. Even the silent Lurch [Connor Carraway] gets a moment to actually speak.

Musical numbers serve to both comment on and move the action forward, and are mostly delivered with assurance, especially by the principal actors. Ms. Rikerd and Mr. Posey have a fine chemistry, and their talents are showcased in numerous songs. Ms. McNally's confession in "Full Disclosure" is powerful. Ms. VanderWal and Mr. Parrish are at their best in "Crazier Than You". And Mr. Wallace will steal your heart in "Fester's Manifesto" about love and Act II's declaration of his love in "The Moon and Me".

The ensemble of Addams Ancestors are given individualized roles to play, and the group numbers show off their ensemble skills.

Though there are obstacles in the way of Wednesday's and Lucas's romance, all will be resolved by the end [it is a musical comedy after all], and audiences should exit the theatre feeling just a little bit better about returning to the "normal" world.