MAGNA — The Addams Family started as a single panel comic in the New Yorker magazine drawn by Charles Addams, was later adapted to a television show, an animated cartoon, several movies, and finally to this musical adaptation. The Empress Theater in Magna is one of the first companies to produce this in Utah since the rights have been released to amateur companies. And they do a fine job.
In this adaptation, the Addams family faces a struggle: Wednesday Addams, the normally dark and dour daughter has fallen in love with the relatively normal Lucas Beineke. The families are scheduled to meet for the first time, and Gomez is keeping the first secret he’s ever kept form Morticia: the kids want to be married. This news causes conflicts for all three couples (Gomez and Morticia, Wednesday and Lucas, and Mal and Alice Beineke), which can only be resolved with the help of Uncle Fester and the chorus of Ancestors.
The Empress Theatre has impressed me in the past with many of their productions. It is a small, unique space that the staff is very good at using well. And there are really no poor sight lines in the theater. Director Jake Anderson has worked well with the ensemble to create engaging chorus numbers and stage pictures, particularly in the opening number, “When You’re an Addams,” and in both the act closers. The ancestors are engaged and create a lot of interest in their involvement with the audience.
Some major standouts in the cast were Zach Johnson as Lucas Beineke, Mandi Barrus as Morticia, and Nyssa Sara Lee as Wednesday. Johnson had an engaging stage presence and a clear and powerful singing voice, which really shown in the act two duet with Wednesday, “Crazier Than You.” Barrus states in her bio that she has been a voice teacher for 7 years, and it shows in her powerful singing voice and fine acting talents. She is seductively charming as Morticia and shines in the Act Two opening number, “Just Around the Corner.” The real powerhouse of the show, however, is Lee. She has a stunning voice and is a true powerhouse in the role of Wednesday. Lee took command of the stage in her opening number, “Pulled,” and kept that hold on me in every scene she was in for the rest of the evening. She was truly committed to the role, and a joy to watch in all her interactions with the rest of the cast.
Any show based on a beloved existing property, be it a cartoon, book or movie, will have difficulty in not only building off the pre-conceived notions the audience comes in with, but also creating the new world that this work inhabits. And unfortunately, that is where The Addams Family show falls short. Jeff Erickson as Gomez has a great sense of comic timing and did a fine job of selling the humor in the script. However, he seemed to lack the bravado that Gomez requires. His Gomez seems to be overwhelmed by the situations, rather than bluffing and blustering his way through with the knowledge that all will work out. Jim Schroeder and Amy Metler as Mal and Alice Beineke had several issues on the night I attended. Metler’s performance of the songs “Waiting” and “Crazier Than You” was problematic, with many of the notes being on pitch, which even caused problems for the other performers on stage during the latter number. This may have partially be caused by a poor mix between the microsphones and the prerecorded sound, which often seemed to drown out the voices. Also there was little change in her character from the sweet, rhyming housewife to the “darker” character brought out by the potion in the Act One finale. Schroeder’s Mal was lacking depth. The character was too flat to give me a reason to root for his eventual reconciliation with Alice. There was also a few of the Ancestors in the chorus who took opportunities to mug to the audience, pulling focus from the main characters on stage. This seemed to please the actor’s friends and family in the audience, but did little for the continuity and flow of the plot.
Costuming design by Melissa Buxton, Amy Burton, Michele Brown, Carrie Johnson, Jake Anderson and the cast, was generally very excellent. One odd choice was changing Uncle Fester’s iconic black coat for a red robe. This seemed to be for no understandable reason, and just looked odd. Makeup design by the cast was also generally well done, but made me wonder why Grandma, played by Rossy Thrall, had what appeared to be cat whiskers. Again, this seemed to be so out of place for the iconic figures.
And unfortunately, that is perhaps the biggest problem with this show. The creators of the musical stated that they went back to the original cartoons drawn by Addams, but they did little in the script to define the characters. The script is not great. It is funny, but it lacks the macabre fun that existed in the cartoon and the TV show, and that is the expectation most audiences will have.
Having said that, The Empress Theatre has created a fun show, with lots of energy and a few spectacular moments. It is well worth the drive out to Magna to see this community theater production of The Addams Family.