BWW Review: Creepy, Kooky, Fun ADDAMS FAMILY at Fulton Theatre
Creepy? Check. Kooky? Check. Mysterious? Yep. Spooky? Undeniably. Altogether ooky? That's a tough one - what does that one even mean? But if it's a drawl of "okay" - as in SPAMALOT, where it's an emphatic declaration, then the Fulton Theatre's production of THE ADDAMS FAMILY musical is pretty darn great. Which is saying a lot, by the way, because to be honest, the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is notoriously not darn great (especially as compared to the music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, many of which are clever), and on Broadway its all-star cast often phoned performances in because of it. There's nothing like that at the Fulton, where director Marc Robin has put his own spin on the show and made it an enjoyable rumpus. It's the Addams family - it's required to be a rumpus. America's favorite dysfunctional family of 1960's television wasn't exactly "normal".
Most of the changes from the Broadway and tour production are subtle; all are improvements, right down to the notable personalities for the ensemble "dancestors". In most productions, these characters are nothing more than their costumes (flapper, airline flight attendant, and so on), but here actual personal quirks can be found that make the ensemble more fun to watch, and more clearly Addams ancestors, not just dancing figures. That's more subtle. But the re-staging of Uncle Fester's vaudeville number, "The Moon and Me," from a pure vaudeville (usually staged with Fester sitting with conspiculously false legs) to a dance number involving Fester and a waltzing moon maiden pulls the scene, and Fester, out of pure comedy into actual feeling and emotion. That's major, and adds immeasurably to giving the show some needed depth. A few added minor in-jokes related to the movie (to which the original musical tried to be completely unrelated) also help Addams fans feel some continuity with the Addams story that's already programmed in them.
Jeremiah Jones gives paterfamilias Gomez the right mix of intelligence, romance, and incredible obtuseness, with a nice touch of sheer terror at the thought of his wife on a rampage, while Lauren Blackman's Morticia is more than dark enough for the flower-loathing, cockroach-loving wife and mother; they're a perfect pair, even when Morticia's refusing to speak to Gomez over his real or imagined offenses. Cary Michelle Miller does a nice job of showing Wednesday's post-adolescent "family or boyfriend" angst. The delightful surprise is Liam Keenan as Pugsley. He throws wholesale enthusiasm into the idea of being tortured by Wednesday, and is the perfect foil both for her and for his wonderfully weird "Grandma," Charis Leos. As Gomez tells him, he's a true Addams. It's a fine and mature performance for a middle-school student to achieve.
Andras Lincoln plays Lucas Beinecke, the more-or-less average college kid who's in love with the spontaneous and far darker Wednesday, with a definite eye to the gawky, which he sheds properly when he finally comprehends that he's been a bit wet all along. Heidi Kettenring and Tony Lawson are delightful as Alice and Mal Beinecke, his somewhat average but slightly dotty mother and his painfully normal, Midwestern businessman father. The audience knows immediately that they'll either clash with the Addams clan permanently or somehow be sucked into the merry weirdness vortex - and as this is a comedy, there can be no doubt of how this will end.
All of this occurs with an Act One-ending production of "Full Disclosure," Morticia's favorite dinner party game, that's miraculously staged, and some beautifully produced moments like "Crazier Than You" between Wednesday and Lucas. Other show-stoppers include Morticia's "Just Around the Corner," the previously mentioned "The Moon and Me," and Morticia and Gomez's tango near the end of the second act.
But the pot in this show needs to be stirred for its recipe to come together. And while the stars of the show may be Gomez and Morticia, the chef with the spoon is Uncle Fester, whose plotting brings all of the couples in the show, including himself and the Moon, either together or back together. There with the theme song, "Let's Not Talk About Anything Else But Love" is Fester, played by David Girolmo. While Girolmo is always a welcome sight on the Fulton boards, he's also undoubtedly the finest Fester that this writer has seen amid a plethora of productions. It's unfortunately common to play Fester as purely a comic figure, but he immediately sets himself up as the guardian of love at the beginning of the first act, and it's important for Fester to have that emotional influence both in his character and upon others; he is the Friar Laurence of the production, with a dash of Puck, both a guardian of lovers and a bit of a cheerful magical character in the process, and Robin's direction and Girolmo's efforts bring that forth admirably.
This is the production of THE ADDAMS FAMILY you really want to see. From the fine acting, to Marc Robin's improving touches, to a marvelous set by William J. Mohney that perfectly combines projection with constructed set to generate a right and proper Addams manse with all its fiendishly delicious touches, this production really works. It's a marvelous opener for the current Fulton season, but that all of the other productions must now live up to this standard.
At the Fulton through October 25; visit thefulton.org for tickets and information.