BWW Review: THE ADDAMS FAMILY at Te Auaha Wellington
The Addams Family - A New Musical
Te Auaha Musical Theatre Course of 2018
Reviewed by Aimee Smith
The Addams Family - macabre, charming, and surprisingly bursting with love and warmth is a family who requires no introduction. This, at least, was my assumption on heading along to Te Auaha's Musical Theatre Course production of the show (the music penned by Andrew Lippa, the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice). The devious Pugsley and Wednesday are memorable to me as the siblings I both wished I had, and simultaneously never, ever wanted to meet for fear of having my toenails ripped out for fun. When the audience began snapping their fingers to the familiar theme song playing in the overture, it became clear we were all on the same page.
The Addams Family musical uplifts the popular characters from the original Charles Addams comic strips and lands them in a fresh new story. The plot is silly, and definitely dips its toes into nonsensical, but this is exactly what the show requires. Wednesday Addams is secretly engaged to her new 'normal' beau, Lucas Beineke. Whilst Wednesday confides in her engagement to her father Gomez, the rest of the two families are in the dark. Lucas' parents trek to the Addams Central Park mansion to meet the parents, where both families attempt to act 'normal' for the sake of their respective offspring. Morticia, aware her husband is hiding something from her, tries to sniff out the secret, while poor Gomez is trapped by his loyalty to his daughter, as it duels with his loyalty to his wife.
I was impressed by the energy and skill of Gomez and Fester, who shared the challenging job of pushing a bulk of the narrative along. Mia Alonso-Green's performance as the charismatic Spaniard was both smooth and blustering as required, vocal delivery controlled yet nailing the emotional nuance required in numbers such as "Happy/Sad". Her Spanish accent was impressively maintained throughout the duration of the show.
Fester also carries much of the heavy lifting as far as storytelling goes, acting as a narrator the audience and wrangler of the ensemble of Addams Family ancestors. The main requirement of the role is humour and likeability. Jake Elston steps up admirably to the task, and his version of an earnest Fester who falls in love with the moon is heartwarming to behold. His number "The Moon and Me" features a beautiful ballet dance by Veronica Grace, which was pleasantly unexpected.
Wednesday Addams (Flora Dryburgh) and her letterman-jacketed lover Lucas Beineke (Devon Neiman) make for an adorable pair - it's impossible not to root for their romance. Dryburgh's voice is powerful and with a strong pop lilt, is perfectly suited to the role of the young and sassy Wednesday. While some of Lucas's sung lines seem to dip slightly out of Neiman's vocal range, this doesn't detract from his performance. Neiman has a strong stage presence and performs with an urgency which draws the eye when he is onstage.
Greer Samuels' Morticia is a grounding figure amongst the kooky Addams clan. Sleek and sultry, the Addams family matriarch aptly demonstrates that less can be more onstage, her more pulled-back characterisation providing some welcome calm amidst the storm. Her performance of "Just Around the Corner" was a perfect example of the drier comedic moments of the show and features a particularly punchy dance number - though, the "Tango de Amor" takes the cake for dance number of the night.
Whilst they get less stage time than the rest of the family, this doesn't prevent Claudia Holmstead-Morris and Riley Booth (in their roles as Grandma and Pugsley Addams) from building strong and entertaining characters to complete the family portrait. Grandma positively crackles with devious energy, and Pugsley's more deadpan delivery manages to still elicit sympathy as he struggles to come to terms with the changing structure of his family. Ben Paterson performed a strong and (mostly) silent Lurch, giving us some brief gems of comedy that felt reminiscent of clowning.
Frances Leota nailed her sweet-as-cherry-pie performance of Lucas's mother Alice, becoming the character whose arc I was most invested in. Her fluffy soprano voice half made me expect small woodland creatures to adorn her performance - though Wednesday would undoubtedly shoot these down with her crossbow. One of the shows best pay-offs comes when Alice at long last lets her hair down during the Act I finale, "Full Disclosure".
Each ensemble member struck the perfect balance of creating their own unique character (which was helped along by the superb makeup provided by the students of Weltec), yet formed a strong cohesive unit that never wavered from their number one job of supporting and enhancing the main characters and story beats. The costuming of the chorus demonstrated a rich attention to detail, giving me more to discover about their individual characters each time they appeared onstage. The only drawback to such fabulous costumes is that it left the principal characters looking a little bereft by comparison - and I doubt Morticia Addams is the kind of woman who would want her wardrobe to be outshone by her husband's dead relatives.
Ben Emerson's set design boasts a simple rickety house backdrop and several rickety towers framing both sides of the stage. The eye is automatically drawn to the double doors at the back of the main house. Leigh Evans' direction uses this feature well, and the show boasts some wonderful dramatic entrances. While the aesthetic of the set design may be simple, it's brought to life wonderfully by Joshua Tucker's vibrant lighting design. However, the design takes a backseat to let the performers shine; beautifully supporting the performers. In a theatre the size of Te Auaha's Tapere Nui stage, it's a smart choice. It proves that with a well-directed show with a cast of talented performers, coupled with choices that allow the most important aspects of a work to do the talking, large-scale musical theatre can and should be pulled off on Wellington's smaller stages.
The Addams Family combines dark chuckles with laugh out loud fun. You wouldn't want to miss out on this cast of Wellington's up and coming musical theatre stars. Tickets are vanishing fast, and deservedly so - grab one before they sell out.
The Addams Family runs until the 15th of September, at Te Auaha, NZ Institute of Creativity. Book tickets online here.