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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Addams Family
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Little Shop of Horrors


Jasmine Bassham, Brad York,
and Renée Kathleen Koher

Photo by Scott Samplin
The kooky "Addams Family" 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. While the 2010 Broadway musical adaptation didn't wow the critics, it did run for almost two years and found a way to bring Addams' charming and strange characters to a modern audience. The musical has gone on to become popular in regional theatre and Arizona Broadway Theatre's production is one of their best, with sure-footed direction, gorgeous creative aspects, and a gifted cast who manage to get big laughs while also beautifully depicting the big heart that beats loudly in all of these eccentric and macabre yet also entirely appealing characters.

The musical focuses on just a few days in the life of the members of the Addams family, including parents Gomez and Morticia and their only daughter Wednesday, who is now a young woman and in love. However, the boy she has fallen for is from a "normal" family, something the Addamses are the furthest from, and to make matters even more difficult the couple have secretly gotten engaged and the boy, Lucas, and his parents are on their way over to the Addams home for a dinner party.

Wednesday feels she needs Gomez' help to warm over her mother to the idea of the engagement, so she tells him about it but also swears him to keep it a secret for now. Gomez agrees, even though he is now forced to do something he's never done before—keep something from his wife. The secret causes never-ending confusion and trust issues between Gomez and Morticia. When you add in the rest of the wild Addams clan, including crazy Uncle Fester, silent butler Lurch, wacky Grandma and young brother Pugsley, along with many funny encounters between the Addamses and Lucas' straight-laced family, you end up with a wild and hilarious musical that is also infused with an abundance of charm.

Even though the plot of the musical isn't that original, bookwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice manage to add in some fun twists and humorous updates while staying clear of the traits of the well-known characters from the film and TV show. Also, the scenes that focus on parent-child issues and struggling to deal with a child who is growing up while also facing the issues of growing older, are ones that just about anyone can relate to. Composer Andrew Lippa has written some fun and varied tunes that have witty lyrics, though there are a few that aren't that memorable.

The musical went through many changes over its developmental period and pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago, and even after its Broadway run the creators went back to tighten up the plot and make further changes to the score. The current version is a fast-paced show that has one joke after another. It still has a simple plot and little conflict, and as fun as the book is, Brickman and Elice don't quite know what to do with the ensemble who are mainly only necessary so they can be used in the large musical numbers. There is a line that Fester has in the beginning of the show to the ensemble, who play the Addams ancestors who have been brought out from their graves for the annual family get together, where he says they can't return to their graves until true love prevails. This happens after Gomez and the rest of the family have already sent the ancestors back to their graves and left the graveyard, so it is completely confusing while none of the family ever makes any mention as to why their ancestors are hanging around in their homes.

While director Danny Gorman hasn't figured out a way to resolve that one small problem I have with the script, he has found a perfect cast to bring these beloved characters to life while also ensuring they get big laughs from every joke in the script. Even though the show has ten major parts and is mainly an ensemble effort, the parts of Gomez and Morticia are more prominent, and Brad York and Renée Kathleen Koher are excellent in creating characters with shades of both poignancy and absurdity. York is superb at showing us how Gomez is a caring father and loving husband and also a man with a witty sense of humor and playful nature. Koher perfectly manages to get across the assured, sensual, sexual, and mysterious woman who starts to doubt her husband while pondering the issues that come with growing older. They both excel on their songs with Koher hoofing it up in a fun, vaudeville style in her solo, "Just Around the Corner," and York's "Happy/Sad" is a beautiful, touching, and at times heartbreaking song about how a father reacts when his child grows up.

As Wednesday and Lucas, Jasmine Bassham and Nick Williams are impressive. I've seen both excel in numerous youth productions and ensemble roles in town but I believe this is the first featured role for both in non-youth theatre and they both succeed. Bassham instills her lines with good comic timing and Williams manages to add some dimension to the "square" Lucas. Their singing voices are excellent, with Bassham hitting some impressive high notes on her several solos and Williams' level of enthusiasm quite infectious on their duet, "Crazier Than You." They also form a realistic, romantic couple you root to see succeed.

In the supporting cast, Mark Woodard and Lynzee Foreman are very good as Lucas' parents Mal and Alice, with Foreman hitting some crazy high notes on her solo "Waiting." Lionel Ruland is entirely lovable as the humorous Uncle Fester, instilling the part with an infectious amount of joy. The actors who play the rest of the family members all deliver big laughs and create warm and witty characters, including Corban Adams as the mischievous Pugsley, Barbara McBain as the wacky Grandma, and Nicholas Dana Rylands as the droll, slow and silent servant Lurch.

Kurtis Overby's choreography is fun and varied and makes good use of the large ensemble and Adam Berger's music direction achieves an impressive sound from the eight-piece orchestra. The creative aspects are sublime, with Nate Bertone's set design and Savana Leveille's costumes composed almost entirely of shades of grey that tie directly into the dark nature of the Addams family. Bertone uses two revolving staircases and a few small set elements to fairly effectively depict the various rooms in the house, and Leveille's costumes are full of rich embellishments. Her dresses for Morticia are stunning. The lighting by Zach Blane is quite lush and effective, with a lovely use of shadows and light and the appropriate usage of strips of light on the floors to depict the walls in the many rooms in the Addams' family home. Amanda Gran has come up with some amazing wig and make-up designs to turn the cast into these well-known characters.

The Addams Family isn't an entirely perfect musical, especially since the main plot of two people from different families who are in love is one we've seen before and there are a few missteps in the book and a few songs that are just average. However, when you have an impressive cast and direction that doesn't make a false move, plus gorgeous creative elements, as is the case with Arizona Broadway Theatre's production, it can be a fun, upbeat musical with plenty of humorous moments that bring to life the lovable, familiar, gothic and ghoulish characters.

The Addams Family, through July 6, 2019, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria, and July 12-28, 2019, at the Herberger Theater, 222 E Monroe St, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.azbroadway.org or call 623-776-8400.

Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Based on characters created by Charles Addams
Direction: Danny Gorman
Choreography: Kurtis Overby
Music Direction: Adam Berger
Scenic Design: Nate Bertone
Lighting Design: Zach Blane
Costume Design: Savana Leveille
Wig/Makeup Design: Amanda Gran
Sound Design: Connor Adams
Stage Manager: Ethan Hoover
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Cast:
Gomez Addams: Brad York
Morticia Addams: Renée Kathleen Koher
Lucas Beineke: Nick Williams
Uncle Fester: Lionel Ruland
Grandma Addams: Barbara McBain
Mal Beineke: Mark Woodard
Alice Beineke: Lynzee Foreman
Pugsley Addams: Corban Adams
Lurch: Nicholas Dana Rylands
Ensemble: Kiara Adams, Liz Fallon, Nicholas Kuhn, Cesar Razza, Samantha Ross, Brody Wurr, Danny Durr, Kristina Leopold Jarvis, Alexia Lorch, and Jake Sokoloff.


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