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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Addams Family
Copperstar Repertory Company


Geoffrey Goorin, Sammy Siaki, Janna Hanson, Harmon Swartz, Shanti Okawa, Kevin Rogers and Maureen McElaney
There have been numerous musicals based on characters from cartoons, television shows and movies, but I think The Addams Family is one of the first to draw on all three. The kooky characters that Charles Addams created for his series of cartoons for The New Yorker magazine were brought to life in the iconic 1960s TV show as well as a series of films in the 1990s. Addams' characters have a strange yet appealing combination of charm, love, eccentricity, and the macabre that immediately sets them apart, so it seemed only natural that someone would hit upon the idea of bringing them to life on stage. Copperstar Repertory Theatre opens their 2014 season with an impressive production of the musical with sure-footed direction and a cast more than game to take on these eccentric, gothic and ghoulish characters.

The plot 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, 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.

The Addams Family is a musical with an interesting history, both before and after it opened on Broadway. Many changes were made to the score and book after the show's lackluster pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago. After poor reviews and a run of less than two years on Broadway, the creators made even more changes for the subsequent national tour. That final version is the one that is being licensed for regional productions. The changes are mostly for the better, resulting in a quick moving production, but it still is a musical with a very simple plot, little conflict, and many musical numbers by Andrew Lippa that are basically forgettable. Fortunately, the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice has a never-ending string of jokes, due to an abundance of one-liners, comical sight gags, and character specific dialogue that establishes the various eccentric Addams Family members; and a few of Lippa's songs do succeed with some very clever lyrics and varied musical styles.

While the show is mainly a full ensemble effort, Gomez and Morticia are front and center throughout, and Harmon Swartz and Janna Hanson are excellent in instilling the characters with moments of both insanity and poignancy. Swartz is especially successful in not only making Gomez the witty, fun and loving husband and father but also one with deep, thoughtful feelings toward his wife and daughter. Swartz' crazy European accent is effective and impressive in how he never drops it, even when singing his songs. Hanson gives her Morticia a unique combination of sensuality, mysteriousness and melancholy that works. Both Swartz and Hanson excel in their songs, with Hanson's "Just Around the Corner" getting a funny vaudeville style delivery and Swartz' "Happy Sad" a touching moment about a father's reaction to a child growing older.

As the young couple in love, Shanti Okawa and Nick Gunnell bring an appropriate level of excitement to their parts and make a realistic romantic pair. Okawa is impressive with her comic line readings, instilling all of her lines with a perfect comic punch. Gunnel is equally good in making the straight-laced Lucas come even more alive once challenged by Okawa's Wednesday. Their duet "Crazier Than You" is fun and upbeat with both in good voice.

Lucas' parents Mal and Alice are mostly bland characters and Steve Morgan and Tina Reynolds naturally put across their simplicities. Reynolds has an effective soprano that she shows off in her funny solo bit "Waiting." Geoffrey Goorin makes the most of his humorous moments as Uncle Fester, bringing a sense of pure joy and fun to the part, including his stand-out song "The Moon and Me." The rest of the zany Addams clan is comprised of Sammy Siaki as Pugsley, Maureen McElaney as Grandma, and Kevin Rogers as Lurch. Siaki has a nice stage presence, bringing a sweet and charming though seductive disposition to the mischievous Pugsley. McElaney's Grandma is a bit of an underwritten part, but McElaney still manages to put a bit of zing in her few humorous lines, and Rogers is appropriately droll as the lurking and mostly silent Lurch. While the cast are all quite good in their line readings, some struggle just a bit on their sustained high notes in a few of the songs.

Director Mary-Jo Okawa has not only found a cast capable to bring these memorable characters to vibrant life but she also designed the creative costumes and fun props and co-designed the fairly elaborate sets with her husband David. Okawa's talents are impressive. Laura Christian's choreography is fun and, for the most part, makes good use of the ensemble cast in several numbers. I'm not sure if it was Christian or Okawa who came up with the sword choreography for Gomez in "Trapped," but whoever did should be commended for finding an interesting way to add even more to that vibrant moment. Misty West's lighting is quite lush and effective, with an appropriate use of shadows for the Addamses' family rooms. Pre-recorded musical tracks from Right on Cue Services are rich, full bodied arrangements that add a perfect level or professionalism to the evening.

There is a fairly large ensemble for the show, though they aren't used very effectively throughout, except in a few of the larger dance numbers. While most of the blame for the inclusion of such a large ensemble can be faulted to the creators, it seems Okawa also didn't know quite what to do with them in several scenes. A few of the ensemble are just sitting on the steps in one scene; in another with Gomez and Mal, another pair adds an inappropriate amount of interaction that distracts from the moment; and in "Just Around the Corner," two members dressed up as "Death" are so lackluster in their movements they almost sidetrack our attention from Morticia and the song. These bits are the only downside to Okawa's otherwise very impressive direction.

The Addams Family is far from a perfect musical. It doesn't all work, with a by-the-numbers simplistic plot that requires the audience to already have some familiarity with the kooky characters and a score with only a few memorable tunes. However, it still results in a fun, upbeat show with plenty of chuckles and memorable moments due to the witty book and unusual characters. With an impressive cast, fun choreography, encouraging direction, and impressive creative elements, Copperstar Repertory Company's production of The Addams Family is quite successful in bringing these crazy, fun-loving characters to life.

The Copperstar Repertory Company production of The Addams Family runs through October 11th, 2014, at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa. For more information, visit copperstarrep.org.

Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Based on characters created by Charles Addams
Director Mary-Jo Okawa
Musical Director & Conductor Brent Mauldin
Choreographer Laura Christian
Assistant Choreographer Shanti Okawa
Stage Manager Kona Fotu
Assistant Stage Manager Kelly Evans
Hair & Make-Up Design Kona Fotu
Costume Design Mary-Jo Okawa
Sound Design Rebecca Barney
Lighting Design Misty West of Davis Entertainment
Set Design Mary-Jo Okawa & David Okawa
Scenic Painting Maggie Keane
Properties Mary-Jo Okawa

Cast:
Gomez: Harmon Swartz
Morticia: Janna Hanson
Wednesday: Shanti Okawa
Lucas: Nick Gunnell
Fester: Geoffrey Goorin
Pugsley: Sammy Siaki
Grandma: Maureen McElaney
Mal: Steve Morgan
Alice: Tina Reynolds
Lurch: Kevin Rogers
Native American: Dylan Beaty
Fancy Gent: Charles Blessing
Stewardess: Nicole Bond
Opera Singer: Lori Carter
Nanny: Cherish Christensen
Sailor: Davon Dickerson
Flapper: Laura Christian
Greek Goddess: Elizabeth Ervans
Dapper Dan: Adam Flanagan
Masquerade: Kara Houser
Caveman: Doug Marks
Pirate: Tad Morgan
Saloon Gal: Kate Niendstedt
Victorian: Olivia Niendstedt
Cowboy: Joe Renton
Bride: Ashalee Torrey


Photo: Tim Trumble Photography

--Gil Benbrook


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