Contra Costa Civic Theatre had the audience snapping their fingers along with the familiar “Addams Family” theme song Friday during the overture for “The Addams Family: A New Musical,” on stage at the El Cerrito venue through Oct. 19. The company enjoys an exciting distinction this month, being the first in the Bay Area to produce the 2010 Broadway show. (Bay Area Stage of Vallejo will feature the musical beginning Oct. 17.)
The plot centers around Wednesday (Tosca Maltzman), the Addams family teen who has fallen for a “normal” young man (Lewis Rawlinson as Lucas). Wednesday is more mature than the little girl from the TV series, now rebelling against the macabre family values she grew up with and trying to act more conventional. When her date shows up at the house for dinner, Wednesday comes in wearing a sunny yellow dress, much to the horror of her exclusively black-clad mother.
Molly Daniels as Morticia more closely embodies the familiar TV character, the darker half of the married couple that delights in all things garish and ghoulish. Daniels is tall and svelte, the perfect model for Morticia’s long, sleek black gown with wispy, trailing sleeves (beautifully designed by costumer Lisa Danz).
Wednesday’s little brother Pugsley (Jonah Rotenberg) is also a virtual replica from the TV series, while Morticia’s husband Gomez (Mark Enea) and their butler Lurch (Gregory Lynch) are less recognizable from their television counterparts. They may be more like those from Charles Addams’ original, single-panel cartoons, on which the musical adaptation is largely based. This Gomez is less campy, more like a Ricky Ricardo in the way he tries to avoid conflict with his wife, and Lurch is funnier, speaking in those familiar, booming monosyllables but expressing more bewilderment than gloom.
On the other hand, Uncle Fester (Ron Pickett) and Pugsley (Rotenberg) will take Gen-Xers on a journey to the black-and-white TV era with their spot-on characterizations from the series. Pickett practically steals the show, whether he’s posing as a lamp stand or dancing on a grave, delivering all with glorious panache. Rotenberg also shines as glum little Pugsley, especially in a special solo in front of the curtain during the first act.When I asked director Alex Perez about the relationship between the play’s characters and their TV and cartoon counterparts, he had this to say:
“The Broadway version went through many changes when it first opened in pre-Chicago workshops. The characters are based loosely on the cartoons and the TV show because I believe the writers wanted to encompass fans of the generations that may have grown up with either one of those mediums, and then give it a fresh new feel by bringing some references up to date — for example, Grandma scolding Pugsley for texting on a cellphone.
“Directorially, I felt it was important to round up all audiences, new and old, and (even) those who did not know the Addams Family, and give it a something-for-everyone moment. Some jokes were vaudevillian, (whereas) some were lifted right off of the comics. (The musical) pays homage and blends all of the versions, but what you hear is the actual script — nothing was added or changed. I believe they wanted to encompass fans of not only the cartoons and the TV show but the ’90s movies as well.”
I asked Perez specifically about Wednesday, the center of the story in this musical adaptation. “The original writers wanted to focus on Wednesday,” he explained. “The idea is trying to transition between two worlds. There is a lot of evil in the world.” So there is a bit of deeper meaning in the play, he said, as in a way, Wednesday is contemplating the larger issue of good versus evil.
There are fantastic elements in the Contra Costa Civic production. Danz does wonders with costuming, especially for the fabulous “Ancestors,” zombies from the family crypt who come out each year to celebrate Morticia and Gomez’s wedding anniversary. The zombies are a fabulous addition, swaying and swooshing together in lilac-greys with ashen faces and cobweb-like boas streaming from their hems and sleeves.
The musical was not well received by critics when it premiered on Broadway, but I found it very entertaining. The characters are hilarious, the song lyrics are even funnier, and the visuals created by the costumed characters set against the background of the family’s Central Park crypt are both eerie and beautiful. Director/choreographer Perez has a gift for dynamic expression that comes through in the unique combination of elements on the stage.
The musical is a bit of a mixed bag, what with characters springing from fundamentally different sources and combining the diverse elements of vaudeville, camp and contemporary serial drama, but writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and lyricist Andrew Lippa have done an admirable job bringing it all together, making for a production that offers a little something for each of the target audiences. Boomers and yuppies alike will find something to love in this creepy, kooky, new-millennium “Addams Family.”
If You Go
“The Addams Family: A New Musical” continues at Contra Costa Civic Theatre, 951 Pomona Ave. at Moeser Lane, El Cerrito through Oct. 19. Tickets are $31 and are available by calling 510-524-9132 or online at ccct.org.
Elizabeth Warnimont is a freelance writer specializing in the performing arts. She is also a substitute teacher for the Benicia Unified School District.