BWW Review: THE ADDAMS FAMILY is a Witty, Tuneful Boy Meets Ghoul Story

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Few creations have enjoyed the cultural longevity of Charles Addams characters The Addams Family. This satirical inversion of the typical American family was first introduced back in 1938 as a series of 150 single panel cartoons in the pages of The New Yorker that continued until Addams' death in 1988. The characters, an eccentric clan that delights in the macabre and yet are totally unaware that others find them frightening or at the very least bizarre, have been adapted for other mediums multiple times: a 1964 television series, the 1973 and 1998 animated series, three feature films in the '90's, five video games, a pinball machine that remains the best selling of all time and in 2010, the Broadway musical THE ADDAMS FAMILY. The musical has a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and is currently receiving a witty and tuneful local production at the Long Center by Summer Stock Austin.

Summer Stock Austin has been a part of the Austin theatre scene since 2005. Annually, college and high school students from across Texas meet to mount several productions with professionals from Austin and around the country in a one-of-a-kind experience. They work as a traditional "stock" company; each member performs, designs, builds, and assists on the various aspects of theatrical productions. Similar programs charge high school students tuition, but Summer Stock Austin not only offers the experience to all participants free of charge, many of the college students work as mentors throughout the process. Led by a host of professionals with experience ranging from Austin to Broadway, students begin making invaluable connections as they embark on their professional careers and gain firsthand knowledge of working in a professional setting. Summer Stock Austin is a joint program of the Long Center for the Performing Arts, in conjunction with Austin Playhouse and Zilker Theatre Productions.

The show opens with the family visiting the graveyard for their annual gathering of family members ("living, dead, and undecided") in celebration of what it is to be an Addams. Uncle Fester (David Pena) stops the Ancestors from returning to their graves in order to enlist their help. He explains that Wednesday (Hannah Roberts), who has now grown to be a young woman, has invited her new and very normal boyfriend, Lucas Beineke (Michael Wheeler), and his parents, Mal (Noah Villarreal) and Alice (Haley Boswell), to dinner. While torturing Pugsley (Keaton Brandt) in a very funny musical bit on a rack, Wednesday confesses that love is pulling her in new and confusing directions. Meanwhile, Morticia (Mariel Ardila) and Gomez (Benjamin Roberts) are worried by the changes taking place in Wednesday. When the Beinekes arrive, Wednesday and Lucas instruct their families to act normal so they can all enjoy a simple dinner. But as soon as Lurch (Chris Haley) ushers them in the tension begins to mount. Pugsley, Fester, and Grandma (Amani J.K. Alexander) all fail at acting normal, and Wednesday, who has worn only black for eighteen years, suddenly appears in a bright yellow dress. Lucas and Wednesday, away from their families, reveal that the reason they brought their families together is to announce that they are getting married.

Ginger Morris, who both directed and choreographed, has done a marvelous job with the material. With doing double duty here, she keeps the action moving and the dance numbers flow organically from the action. She has also created some exceptionally clever choreography that the company does with snap and style. The twenty four member ensemble, referred to as The Ancestors, are a delight, always hovering above or on the sides of the action, doubling as prop holders and are constantly in a shifting array of frozen poses, limbs akimbo.

Dustin L. Struhall has done a great job with the musical direction and delivers a big Broadway sound from this young cast. Rachael Vandenberg's costumes are a delight, especially the white costumes for the ghostly Ancestors. The costumes call up images of Lizzie Borden and other famous malevolent figures from history. Theada Bellenger's set is simple and economically effective and Scott Vandenberg's lighting is just right for the proceedings with some lovely gobo work.

The company is strong and there really isn't a weak performance in the bunch; however, there are some standout performances worth mentioning. Benjamin Roberts is an absolute charmer as Gomez. He nails the character, does some great accent work, has terrific comedic timing and makes the character his own. Mariel Ardila is a wonderful Morticia, and captures that all knowing smile so important to the character. She also has a show stopping number "Just Around the Corner" that will have you in tears of laughter.

Hannah Roberts is absolutely charismatic as Wednesday and has a serious singing voice. Her number "Pulled" shows off that voice to maximum effect. Chris Haley, as Lurch, is just perfect from attitude to movement... and he single handedly resolved two technical problems on the night I saw the show both quickly and in character. Haley Boswell, as Alice, has some serious comedic timing chops making the most of her time on stage.

THE ADDAMS FAMILY is a great fun evening. Witty, well staged and featuring some wonderful dance work from this very talented young cast. Do yourself a favor and catch these outstanding young performers who are doing work that can stand up to anything playing on stage anywhere in town. You won't find a more joyful production anywhere else.

THE ADDAMS FAMILY - Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa

Running time: Approximately Two Hour and a Half hours plus one intermission

THE ADDAMS FAMILY, produced by Summer Stock Austin, in the Rollins Studio at The Long Center (701 West Riverside Drive, Austin, TX 78704). Tickets are now on sale and start at $25, with a special $17 ticket for students. For more information, visit www.TheLongCenter.org or call (512) 474-LONG (5664) for ticket information. Tickets are also available at the Long Center's 3M Box Office located at 701 West Riverside Drive at South First Street.



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From This Author Frank Benge