BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Nudges Us to Buy Halloween Candy Early with THE ADDAMS FAMILY

BWW Reviews:  Theatre Memphis Nudges Us to Buy Halloween Candy Early with THE ADDAMS FAMILY

As absurd as it may seem, someone should have brought Patrick Dennis' "Auntie Mame" and Charles Addams' "Morticia" together for a "Ladies Who Lunch" session. Both have concerns about the intrusion of a "normal" family into their familial settings. Of course, with Morticia there, it would be wise to test the cocktails first (especially if she brought Grandma along to provide the swizzle sticks). Thus hangs the plot thread of the giddy and ghoulish musical comedy THE ADDAMS FAMILY, currently rattling bones and wafting cobwebs at Theatre Memphis

Despite the thinness of plot, director Cecelia Wingate (who has had no time to dust the Ostrander Award she recently copped for helming the similarly Gothic and glorious YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) has taken this twisted family tree and planted it firmly and hilariously center stage. THE ADDAMS FAMILY (with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) is, of course, based on those sinister cartoons that originally appeared in the NEW YORKER and later morphed into the cult television series (with John Astin, Carolyn Jones, and the marvelous Jackie Coogan), as well as film. (By the way, as a point of trivia, in the series "Grandma" was played by the actress Blossom Rock, who in real life was none other than the sister of MGM songbird Jeanette MacDonald.)

Here, Ms. Wingate has brought casting choices to a whole new level, for some of Memphis finest singers and farceurs have been bedecked in threads that might have been conceived by the blackest of widow spiders (shrouds off to costume designer Paul McCrae) and allowed their moment under the moon. Surprisingly, Rob Hanford, gifted as always, actually gives "Gomez" a touching sweetness beneath all that smooth Latinate posturing (I love the way he is driven mad as he kisses the hand of the ebony-clad Morticia). Torn between love for wife and daughter, he walks a sharp edge and maintains an elegant balance as he tries to be father and husband at once. As the marvelously morbid "Morticia," Emily F. Chateau (radically different from her "Sister Maria" who led her charges singing through the Austria mountains in SOUND OF MUSIC) practically floats across the stage in the tightest and most tempting of costumes. Then, too, there are the children: "Wednesday" (dangerously and delightfully interpreted by Brie Leazer, who reminded me of a more lethal version of Winona Ryder) has had her pigtails shorn and snatched Cupid's bow for her own uses; and "Pugsley" (a perfectly cast Oakley Weddle) is determined to use one of Grandma's concoctions to prevent the marriage that would remove his sister (or, more important, his chief torturer). Kell Christie (exchanging the haute couture she sported in SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION) is a mischievous and ancient "Grandma" (although WHOSE she is, is debatable): and John M. Hemphill surpasses all the "Uncle Fester" impersonations I have ever seen (his "The Moon and Me" has to be seen to be believed - what brilliant staging THAT was). Finally, there is "Lurch," played by a baleful and physically towering Justin Asher. His tortoise pace would even lag behind that of Tim Conway's famous Old Man in the CAROL BURNETT SHOW sketches of yore. (When he finally exchanges those growling guttural sounds for song in the latter stages of the show, he exhibits an astonishing musical voice).

Enjoyable, too, are Caiden Britt as the target of Wednesday's arrows, and, in the role of the Ohio-based "normals" who are his parents, Gregory K. Krosnes and Lorraine Cotton (whose "transformation" from a yellow-obsessed, doggerel-rhyming nondescript is an inhibitions-blasting joy).

Lightning (which punctuates the play) seems to have struck twice for not only Ms. Wingate, but for many of the cast members here (for they, too, garnered praise, nominations, and awards for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. I wouldn't be surprised to see this play "rise from the dead" during awards ceremonies next summer.

The only fault I find here is the timing of the production: What a special joy it would be in . . . October! I could see it occupy an annual spot on Theatre Memphis' calendar as surely as A CHRISTMAS CAROL dominates December.

While Andrew Lippa's music is enjoyable (and Jeffrey B. Brewer's musical direction and orchestra are more than up for the task), it's the nonstop cleverness of the lyrics that put the musical nail into the coffin. Thankfully, they can be heard above the instruments (previously, the sound system in some of the musicals previously staged at Theatre Memphis rendered some of the lyrics unintelligible; that was certainly NOT a problem here). With excellent lighting by Jeremy Allen Fisher and a creative sound design by Eric Sefton. Through September 14.

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