Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Addams Family
Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Mychal Leverage and Amanda Valenzuela
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
It's always great when creators of a musical that didn't receive much acclaim during its Broadway run make changes to their show to improve it and see it become a huge hit in regional theatre. That is exactly what happened with the musical The Addams Family which, while it did have a Broadway run of almost two years, didn't exactly wow the critics. But with a refined book and some adjustments to the score it has become a crowd-pleasing staple of regional theatre. There are four planned productions of this show in Phoenix this season alone, but I don't know if any can top the excellent production at Hale Centre Theatre which has sublime creative aspects, perfect direction, and a top-notch cast who get big laughs from their kooky characters while also ensuring the love the characters display and the warm emotions in the story ring true.

Charles Addams created the lovable, eccentric and macabre Addams Family characters for his series of cartoons for The New Yorker magazine, and the family was also depicted in the cult classic 1960s TV show as well as a series of films in the 1990s. For the stage musical adaptation, bookwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and composer Andrew Lippa focus on just one day in the life of the family, as parents Gomez and Morticia face the fact that their daughter Wednesday, who is now a young woman, has fallen in love with Lucas, a young man from a "normal" family. Lucas and his family are coming over for dinner, and Wednesday has confided in her father that she and Lucas are secretly engaged and enlists his help to smooth things over with her mother in order to bless their engagement. This sets in motion a series of hilarious and heart-warming situations between Lucas' straight-laced family and the rest of the crazy and kooky Addamses, including zany Uncle Fester, the silent and slow moving butler Lurch, their wacky Grandma, and Wednesday's young and precocious brother Pugsley.

While the plot of a meeting between two families who are complete opposites isn't that original, Brickman and Elice crafted a book that features humorous situations and an abundance of warmth while also retaining familiar peculiarities of the well-known characters from the film and TV show. Lippa's songs are catchy, with witty lyrics that ring true to both the characters and the situations in the show that are recognizable, including parents dealing with children who are growing up more quickly than they'd prefer, relationship issues, and people learning to overcome their differences. The combination of the funny book and the upbeat score results in a fast-paced show that has a seemingly never-ending string of jokes.

Director Cambrian James has delivered a superb production. His choreography is inventive, upbeat and winning, and his direction makes sure that every joke gets big laughs and that the warmth of the story comes across realistically. Lincoln Wright's music direction achieves rich sounds from the entire cast and, while pre-recorded music tracks are used, they are very good. The inventiveness in Hale's excellent creative elements is apparent as soon as you enter the theatre, with Brian Daily's rich set design already visible: several of the surrounding walls of the in-the-round theatre are dressed to resemble walls of the Addams' house; there are whimsical set furnishings; and the painted stage floor is awash in gorgeous shapes and gothic touches. Tia Hawkes's detailed costumes bring the well-known characters to life—her dresses for Morticia are exceptional. Tim Dietlein's lighting design uses shadows and pops of color along with a sense of whimsy, which adds to the merriment while also helping to depict the time of day in the story. Jessica Ottley's projections are simple but add an extra element of fun to the show, while McKenna Carpenter's props are imaginative and fun.

Mychal Leverage and Amanda Valenzuela are excellent as Gomez and Morticia. The chemistry they have together is natural and they both have perfect comic timing. Leverage does a wonderful job portraying Gomez as the devoted husband and caring father. His performance of "Happy/Sad" is heartbreaking, warm, and quite moving. His playful sense of humor gets big laughs from the audience and his singing voice is clear and rich. Valenzuela is equally good as Morticia, with a perfect combination of assuredness and mystery but also doubt once Morticia starts to think her husband is hiding something from her. She looks like she's having a blast with her comical solo, "Just Around the Corner," and the two also get to dance a really fun and sensual tango, which is another highlight in the production.

As Wednesday and Lucas, Holly Payne and Jake Ashton form a winning duo. Both have beautiful singing voices and they create three dimensional characters as well as a realistic romantic couple you want to see succeed. Raymond Barcelo is a hoot as Uncle Fester. Barcelo brings so much joy to every role I've seen him portray and his performance here is no exception. As Lucas' parents, Adam Guinn and Heidi-Liz Johnson create realistic individuals who also have to overcome issues of their own and they both do wonderful vocal work, with Johnson hitting some impressive high notes while also channeling the comic hijinks of Carol Burnett during her solo "Waiting." Suze St. John and Daniel Lopez are appropriately wacky and witty as Grandma and Lurch, and, in an incredibly impressive performance, Jacob Vella, who took over for Luke Chester as the mischievous Pugsley at the performance I attended with only a few hours of rehearsal time that afternoon, is wonderful.

While The Addams Family may not have been a huge Broadway success, when you have the kind of impressive cast, excellent direction, and superb creative elements Hale Centre Theatre's production has, it's clear how this fun, upbeat musical has become a crowd-pleasing favorite and is now a staple for both youth and regional theatres across the country.

The Addams Family runs through October 2, 2021, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling 480-497-1181

Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Based on characters created by Charles Addams
Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein
Director/Choreographer: Cambrian James
Music Director: Lincoln Wright

Set Technical Director: Brian Daily
Lighting Designer: Tim Dietlein
Costume Designer: Tia Hawkes
Head Prop & Paint Designer: McKenna Carpenter
Sound Design: Josh Lindblom
Wigs & Makeup: Cambrian James
Projections Designer: Jessica Ottley
Audio Engineers: Jackson Zyontz & Josh Lindblom
Stage Manager: AJ Marshall
Dance Captain: Olivia Woodward-Shaw

Gomez Addams: Mychal Leverage
Morticia Addams: Amanda Valenzuela
Uncle Fester: Raymond Barcelo
Wednesday Addams: Holly Payne
Pugsley: Jacob Vella
Grandma: Suze St. John
Lurch: Daniel Lopez
Lucas Beineke: Jake Ashton
Mal Beineke: Adam Guinn
Alice Beineke: Heidi-Liz Johnson
Ancestors: Daniel Bargen, Riley Clark, Albert Johnston, Joshua South, Stephanie Funk, Makenna Jacobs, Olivia Porter, Olivia Woodward-Shaw