SANDY — As is the inevitable fate of all 20th century cultural properties, The Addams Family was turned into a Broadway musical a few years ago. The musical ran in 2010-2011 and did pretty well for itself, despite “mixed to negative” reviews by The Grey Lady and other New York critics.
It seems only natural that this fairly family friendly production would eventually find its way to Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy, Utah. While it’s not a timeless musical by any means, those snobby Gotham reviewers must have had their under-drawers in a bunch, because the Hale’s production is definitely worth checking out for some dark comedy yuks.
The show, written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, concerns a creepy, kooky family who loves nothing more than playing with torture devices and opining about the advantages of death (in a PG-rated way, of course). The family is led by its Hispanic patriarch and matriarch Gomez and Morticia (what a name), who generally keep the family in line, or at least on this side of the grave.
I’m going to cut to the quick here: the acting in this production is tremendous. Every cast member, professional and otherwise, was flawless. These were big stage talents. As Gomez, Benjamin Harrison was a robust singer. And while his atrocious Spanish accent drove me nuts, it was fitting for a cartoonish tale based on a cartoon.
The narrator and actual emotional core of the show was Fester (played by Grassroots Shakespeare regular Daniel Fenton Anderson), who reveals the topic of the show, love. The main love story is between Wednesday Addams (Rebecca Kremin) and her preppy fiancé, Lucas (played by husband Nathan Kremin). Despite her dark tendencies, Wednesday has fallen head over black-soled heels in love. She’s even started wearing yellow, much to the disgust of younger brother Pugsley (Bridget Maxwell).
Other love plots involve Fester and a secret crush and neighbors Mal and Alice Beineke (Chandler Bishop and Claire Wilkins Kenny) who have let passion fade from their marriage. And, in the most expected sub-plot of all, Gomez and Morticia have a falling out during the course of the show before inevitably reconciling in a tango.
Bishop and Kenny were impeccable as the bewildered Beineke neighbors who come to the Addams mansion (castle?) for a dinner party. Both actors displayed strong singing and acting chops that could play on any stage. Maxwell was also a delightfully devious Pugsley and consistently stole scenes. Maxwell embodied the puckish part perfectly, particularly because she was playing cross-gender. Rounding out the cast was Ryan Zaugg as the lovable mute butler Lurch.
Even though she might not get top billing (a mistake), this production was really Wednesday’s show. As Wednesday, Rebecca Kremin was perfect. The crossbow she toted around the entire show was delightfully unique. This crossbow wasn’t a sissy stage crossbow, mind you; it was the real medieval stuff that weighed about 10 pounds. Seeing Rebecca Kremin sling and chuck that thing around was delightful (props were by Michelle Jensen). But of course more important than her choice of weaponry was Rebecca Kremin’s acting and singing, which were incredible. Fortunately, she was paired with another force of nature, as Nathan Kremin created a perfect slightly-dopey, preppy love interest.
The script is funny. Much of the humor is squarely in the dark comedy category (my favorite bit involved a TASER and medieval torture device), but there was plenty of wordplay and sitcom shenanigans as well. I adored the ghoulish chorus, especially their costumes (by Joy Zhu). Each chorus member was an undead historical character like Joan of Arc (whose outfit had been set aflame) and a zombified Caesar (with knives in his back, naturally).
As is customary at Hale productions, set design (by Jenn Stepley Taylor) was strong, particularly the set of the Addams’s front yard and its weathered, Gothic wall and gate. The dining room table that allowed Thing (Dylan Udy) to slide around effortlessly was also quite inventive. Dave Tinney directed the show and wrote some superior director’s notes.
However, not all the jokes and worked. There were tired, dated running gags like Gomez forgetting the names of the Beinekes and Grandma’s, “I may be old, but I’m SEXY!” stuff. Sorry Grandma, the Golden Girls played that bit out decades ago. The Beineke’s plot of the oppressed housewife and neglectful husband (who naturally spends too much time at the office) was also unoriginal.
While the music did its job advancing the plot and explaining motivations, it wasn’t particularly memorable. While the cast was basically flawless, the only note I’d give would be for Nathan Kremin to find something to do other than dance and fidget around awkwardly during one of Wednesday’s big solos.
There were also some significant technical issues. Light and sound problems caused the show to be restarted once and stopped two additional times during the course of the evening. It is a universal rule of theater that using canned tracks inevitably leads to problems, so The Hale should really get some live musicians.
Despite the few problems, The Addams Family is a show full of strong actors, singers, and comedians. The set and costume design shapes the story and characters delightfully and does the hilarious script justice. This Halloween, Hale is like your favorite trick-or-treating house—the one that gives out full-size candy bars. Their Addams Family is a tasty Halloween treat for anyone who enjoys humor a bit on the darker side.