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Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

The Addams Family
Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre

Also see Gil's review of Company

Mary Helen Labadie, Rob Dominguez, Jack Yampolsky, Harmon Swartz, Janna Hanson, Kyle Chavira and Emily McAtee
The eccentric, gothic, macabre and kooky cartoon characters of the Addams family that Charles Addams created for The New Yorker magazine have been turned into both a cult hit 1960s TV show and several successful films. Five years ago the family found themselves on Broadway in a musical with Andrew Lippa supplying the fun, upbeat score and a comical, and even somewhat moving, book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. The combination of the appealing charm of the ghoulish characters with the love they have for each other and the funny situations they find themselves in work well for a musical comedy. Scottsdale Desert Stages presents an impressive production, with plenty of laughs and a very talented cast that brings this strange family to life on the stage.

The plot of the show is fairly basic and one we've seen before, but with some hilarious updates. Teenager Wednesday Addams is in love, but with a boy from a "normal" and respectable family, something the Addamses are the furthest from. She tells her father Gomez of the boy named Lucas and that they are engaged, and pleads with him not to tell her mother Morticia, afraid of how she'll react. Gomez agrees even though he is now forced to do something he's never done before—keep something from his wife. The secret causes a rift between the parents that creates confusion and trust issues. Add in the rest of the wild Addams clan—Uncle Fester, silent butler Lurch, crazy Grandma, and young brother Pugsley—as well as many funny encounters between the Addamses and the straight-laced family of Wednesday's boyfriend Lucas and you have an evening of wacky fun centered around a dinner party the Addamses host for the young couple.

While the shows ends up being a fun and fairly quick moving production, it has a very simple plot and minimal conflict, and several of the musical numbers are forgettable. Fortunately, the book includes a never-ending string of jokes, with many hilarious one-liners expertly delivered by the very good DST cast, and several of Lippa's songs do succeed with clever, character specific lyrics.

As Gomez and Morticia, Harmon Swartz and Janna Hanson are superb. They've both played these parts together before and have only grown in their ability to breathe plenty of life and nuance into this lovable twosome. While Swartz instills Gomez with an inspired lunacy, he also elicits truthful and thoughtful feelings for his entire family, including great moments with Hanson and Emily McAtee, who plays Wednesday. His "Happy Sad" song with McAtee is beautifully delivered and his whacky accent never drops, even when singing; the combination of all of these elements is an extremely impressive performance. Hanson is just as good. While never downplaying the sensual aspects of the character, she also provides moments of confusion and fear when she thinks that Gomez is hiding something from her, resulting in a poignant, multi-layered portrayal. Hanson and Swartz make not only a believable couple but realistic parents as well.

McAtee is very good as Wednesday. She is fierce and full of life, with exceptional delivery of her comic line readings. Vincent Pugliese is charming as Lucas and together they create a cute and realistic couple. Their duet "Crazier Than You" is comical and charming. As Lucas' fairly bland parents Mal and Alice, Sean Eugene Atchley and Emily Noxon bring moments of lunacy to this buttoned up duo. Noxon has a lovely voice and delivers a comical "Waiting." Kyle Chavira is hilarious and whacky as Uncle Fester, giving his comic one-liners plenty of punch. Jack Yampolsky has a blast as the youngest Addams child, the mischievous Pugsley, including delivering the powerful solo "What If" that is very moving; Mary Helen Labadie is a hoot as Grandma; and Rob Dominguez is appropriately droll and straight-faced as the family butler Lurch.

Director Jere Van Patten excels in bringing out the touching moments during the comical dialogue scenes, rich character portrayals and moments of lunacy, resulting in overall impressive direction. Angela Kriese's choreography makes good use of the large ensemble and, like Van Patten's direction, never lets anyone in the "in the round" setting feel left out, with constant, changing, and swirling movement. Set designer Paul Filan has created a fairly elaborate design that surrounds the audience with ghoulish paintings of the Addams home and surrounding areas, a cob web covered staircase and sconces, and a large chandelier, plus several second story playing areas that serve effectively as the various rooms in the Addams mansion. While the design is effective, with minimal physical set pieces, you do miss out on a few things, such as a clear understanding that the opening scene is set in a graveyard. Aurelie Flores' costumes are stunning, including an amazing dress for Morticia. Joe Navan's hair and make-up designs add plenty of comic pop to the characters, and Matt Stetler's lighting design paints the scenes appropriately in an abundance of dark, lush shadows and shimmering colors.

With a fairly simple plot, a score with only a few memorable tunes, and the need for the audience to already have some familiarity with the characters, The Addams Family is far from a perfect musical. It also is a show with a large ensemble that never really serves a purpose except to exist for the mostly unnecessary and numerous dance numbers. However, the end result is a fun show that includes many memorable moments, thanks to the kooky characters and the witty book. With a very impressive cast and clear direction that ensures the comic moments pop, Desert Stages' production delivers.

For more information on The Addams Family at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale, that runs through November 2nd, 2015, call 480 483-1664 or visit

Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Based on characters created by Charles Addams
Director: Jere Van Patten
Musical Director: Liz Spencer
Choreographer: Angela Kriese
Set Design: Paul Filan
Costume Design: Aurelie Flores
Hair & Make-Up Design: Joe Navan
Sound Design: Zane Hargis
Lighting Design: Matt Stetler
Properties: Justin Heffner
Stage Manager: Justin Peterson

Gomez: Harmon Swartz
Morticia: Janna Hanson
Wednesday: Emily McAtee
Lucas: Vincent Pugliese
Uncle Fester: Kyle Chavira
Pugsley: Jack Yampolsky
Grandma: Mary Helen Labadie
Mal: Sean Eugene Atchley
Alice: Emily Noxon
Lurch: Rob Dominguez
Ensemble: Emmy Antillon, Dan Ashlock, Cooper Crandell, Cody Duke, Christina Nicole Epp, Brenda Leonhardt, Amber Moldrem, Taylor Moskowitz, Zack Pepe, Kim Rodriguez, Vanessa Rodriguez, Dani Topel, Perry S. Whitehair

Photo: Wade Moran

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix

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