When you base a musical on legendary cartoons (as well as a classic TV show and popular movies derived from the same material), you better be sure that the original material is referenced and that it delivers the same level of humor. That means more in the way of faithfulness than originality, but who cares when it’s The Addams Family? The touring production of the recent Broadway show, currently onstage at the Aronoff Center, delivers on humor, entertainment and a faithful recreation of the oddball characters who revel in the dark side of life.
Don’t go expecting anything but a story that conjures up Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Wednesday, Pugsley and the rest of the motley crew. There is a plot here about Wednesday falling in love (imagine that!), keeping the news from Morticia and a crazy evening when her boyfriend Lucas brings his oh-so-square family to dinner at their bizarre estate in an out-of-the-way corner of New York City’s Central Park. And to add a bit of more human character to warm the show up for audiences, the show’s re-creators have played on Gomez’s effusive adoration of the aloof, mordant Morticia for some story elements and songs about love and honesty.
But what really grabs audiences in this production is seeing the familiar characters come to life. Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth created the central roles in the original Broadway production, and their stamp is evident — Gomez is quick with quips and ad-libs, while Morticia has a cool presence with a lot of steam just below the surface (not to mention oozing out of her décolletage). However, Douglas Sills brings a sometimes silly, sometimes sincere air to Gomez that works nicely (he’s “Trapped” over keeping secrets and promises to Morticia and Wednesday, while revealing genuine emotions in “Happy/Sad”).
Sara Gettelfinger, who is tall and leggy, has the right mix of comic stage presence (“Just Around the Corner”) and sensuality (“Tango de Amor”) for the role. Gettelfinger is a 1999 graduate of UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, a fine example of the musical theater talent produced there, able to sing, dance and act. She’s had a solid Broadway career since graduating and was recognized at CCM this week with its “Musical Theater Young Alumni Award.”
The cast has topnotch voices in every role: Cortney Wolfson is particularly good as the sadomasochistic Wednesday conflicted with positive emotions, reflected in several excellent musical numbers (“Pulled,” “Crazier than You”). As demonic brother Pugsley, Patrick D. Kennedy is both brat and little boy (although drawn to all that scares most kids), and he has a remarkable singing voice. Although we don’t hear much from Lurch until the show’s final moments, Tom Corbeil’s operatic bass is the perfect touch for the zombie-like butler.
Of particular note is Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester. The role has been conceived as a kind of narrator/emcee/trickster who conjures up the chorus of Addams ancestors (10 ghostly costumed progenitors from days gone by). Fester gently nudges them to shape the course of Wednesday’s romance as well as the up-and-down moments of Gomez’s trials with Morticia. But Fester also proves to be the show’s other romantic character, professing his love for the moon. Singing “The Moon and Me,” he levitates from the stage floor and does a startling midair dance with a glowing globe that’s both funny and sweet.
The family of Wednesday’s love interest Lucas (Brian Justin Crum), his sappy, platitudinous mother Alice (played by understudy Victoria Huston-Elem on opening night) and his grumpy, straitlaced father Mal (Martin Vidnovic), are wholly caricatured. But the story allows them to cut loose and evolve in some very amusing ways.
The Addams Family uses a lot of clever stage magic to keep audiences engaged. There’s a red velvet stage curtain that’s drawn this way and that to allow quick scene changes and to move us from moment to moment effortlessly. Cousin It makes an appearance or two, as does the disembodied Hand, so there’s plenty to remind us of comedic elements we all recall. And Andrew Lippa’s score and lyrics were created for this production, there are plenty of moments where familiar melodies crop up — especially as the show starts with the familiar strains of harpsichord and finger snaps.
The show also finds subtle ways to reference musical theater and pop culture — no need to list them here, but they’re evident and corny, just the kind of goofy humor one would expect from a show about people we know so well.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY, presented by Broadway Across America, continues through April 8. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.