The Spreckels Theatre Company handed out the first Halloween treat with its amazing production of The Addams Family Musical. From the moment that Thing’s hand and arm poked through the curtain to conduct the overture to the final ascent of Fester to the arms of his love, the moon, the show which celebrated death, the dead, and the landscape of the picturesque cemetery, moved at a very lively pace.
One Addams’ famous character after another, Gomez (played by Peter T. Downey) and Morticia (Serena Elize Flores), Wednesday (Emma LeFever) and Pugsley (Mario Herrera), Lurch (Brian Bertoli) and Fester (Erik Weiss), and even Grandma (Tika Moon) had his or her singing moments in the spotlight.
The show runs from October 12th through October 28th in the Codding Theatre at Spreckels Performing Art Center. All shows begin at 8 P.M. on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 P.M. on Sundays. There will be one showing at 7 P.M. on Thursday, October 25th. This is a must see for Addams Family lovers and for those who simply enjoy musicals. Schedule your viewing soon because when word gets out, you may be hearing, “Sold out,” when you call 588-3400 to order your tickets.
Charles Addams’ morbid and gloomy creations, one panel New Yorker cartoons, relied on the contrast of the bizarre and outlandish behaviors of a ghoulish and unnamed family to create humor through reversal of traditional values in a harmless and often sympathetic manner. These characters appear oblivious to their shocking contrast to their modern and average counterparts. These characters were finally christened a quarter of a century after they first appeared in The New Yorker in 1938. The Addams characters maintained their dark poise even when at the beach or in a movie theater. And, by the end of the Spreckels production, they reassure us about the powerful positive forces of darkness.
From Romeo and Juliet to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, love’s ambitions have been attacked and thwarted by interfering parents. In the Spreckels show, Wednesday, the charmingly gloomy little girl in black, has barely come of age. Now eighteen, she has fallen in love with Lucas (played by Cooper Bennett), a “normal” young man reared by “typical” parents. But, as Shakespeare noted over four hundred years ago, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” The families come together on a special haunting night, and their clash unveils many revelations from the unhappiness of Lucas’s mother, Alice (played by Morgan Harrington) to the exciting announcement that Fester is in love, all surrounding the emerging news that Wednesday and Lucas plan to marry. The songs disclose personal feelings which all lead to an ironic insightful ending culminating with the characters’ final advice for all of us.
The lyrics of this last musical moral rise above the story to pose a challenge to everyone. Surprisingly, Lurch suggests how to face life’s obstacles best: “Move toward the darkness/Welcome the unknown/Face your blackest demons/Find your weakest bone/Lose your inhibitions/Love what once was vile/Move toward the darkness and smile.” The message simply asks us all to recognize the bad as well as the good and have confidence and courage and intelligence and integrity to accept the dark side as a healthy part of life.
Those familiar with the Addams family characters will be pleased to see that Lurch, Fester, Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, and Grandma have lost nothing in the musical translation. Enjoy watching Gomez outduel ghostly ancestors without hesitation, yet he fears his wife and daughter. The story begins and ends in family solidarity summed up by graveyard lyrics sung to honor the Addams’ ancestors. “Ah, the intoxicating speed of the graveyard./Once a year when the last leaf of autumn falls,We gather to honor the great cycle of life and death.” The story moves toward Lurch’s final embracing of the darkness.
The Addams’ family loyalty and togetherness helps each character work through his or her own problems. “When you’re an Addams/You need to have a little moonlight/When you’re an Addams you need to feel a little chill/You have to see the world in shades of grey/You have to put some poison in your day.” The family and the story suggest that life mixes well with light and dark, good and evil. All of this follows the cartoonist’s, Charles Addams’, lead as he created one panel gags to invert given truths, inviting us to explore the other side.
The story hinges around Wednesday’s love story. Like any person experiencing first love, she wonders about the dangers of these feelings and where they will take her. She ponders musically what she should do. “I should stay in the dark/Not obey every spark/But the boy has a bite/Better far than his bark/And you bet I’ll bite too/Do what’s truly taboo/As I’m pulled in a new direction!” Every character shares this concern, and each is pulled in a new direction which becomes a strong motive in the show.
Morticia and Gomez wonder how they could have let Wednesday turn out so different from how they planned. They start to plot ways to save her, and we see normal mother and father behaviors coming from them as they worry that they did not do enough for their daughter. Morticia plaintively sings, “We gave what we had.” And Gomez reminds us what Addams parents would do to help nurture their daughter as he adds, “Make sure she was bad.” In harmony, the dark couple chants, “Did all we could to keep her sad.”
A second motive emerges as the Wednesday crisis develops through a song first delivered by Alice, the mother of Lucas. “Full Disclosure” ends Act One and begins Act Two. And one character after another reveals private thoughts. For example, Mal, Alice’s husband (played by Larry Williams), tells her about his own re-discovery of love for her while he was in the arms of a squid.
A few fun one-liners punctuate the musical story. Morticia compliments Gomez’s dancing skills when she asks, “Has anyone ever told you? You move like a corpse!” Morticia immediately reveals what she has missed in her life. “I never saw the sewers of Paris!” She then dances with the Grim Reaper as the chorus accompanies their movements with the song, “Death is just around the Corner.” The orchestra, and the singers and dancers blended nicely. The dancers and singers appeared to almost take their cues from the musicians. All of the singers strongly delivered their songs; all the lyrics resounded clearly throughout the theater.
The show grows in strength as it heads to its conclusion. Fester nearly steals the show with his love song to the moon. With his best bit of philosophy, many of us would do well to follow: “In matters of love, distance is our friend.” There is this lovely scene with Fester wearing a straw hat and a white coat, and playing a banjo as he sings to six lovely female ancestors draped in phantom white and spinning white umbrellas. As the couples reunite, another of life’s observations appears for all of us to grasp: “Life is a tight rope and the other end is a coffin.” A spooky tango follows which transforms rapidly into a brief flamenco.
Suddenly, a Gershwin city scene dominates. Pugsley accepts “rearranged life” and Lurch welcomes the darkness. We end where we began with the Addams Family theme song as the orchestra emphasizes different instruments to create an audience provoking lively foot tapping.
One needs to get a program to take in all of the deserving creators of this production. Carl Jordan’s direction skillfully pulled the music (directed by Lucas Sherman) and the choreography (led by Michella Snider) to combine with the fine acting done by all. The set, designed by Elizabeth Bassano and Eddy Hanson, reflected the natural and the supernatural with the traditional and the bizarre. Image projection served nicely to underscore the story and the music.
We have seen many musicals on the local scene and in the city. The Addams Family Musical at the Spreckels ranks high. Great music, fine dancing, fun lyrics and dialogue, the show offers pleasure for spectators of all ages. The story provides a light plot but delivers a message about diversity and acceptance for those looking for some deeper purpose.