REVIEW: "The Addams Family" - Camino Real Playhouse

“…You Rang?”

There they are, lined up like tombstones, and looking as if they had just stepped out of a cartoonist’s inkwell. Shrink these impeccably assembled creatures to a height of 10 inches, and you could give them away with McDonald’s Happy Meals.

The Addams Family has been a cult hit for years, starting in the 1930s with the New Yorker magazine cartoons of Charles Addams. His zany lampoons in the magazine regularly depicted the antics of childlike Gomez and his Vampirish wife, Morticia, their guillotine-loving 18-year old daughter Wednesday, their son Pugsley (who likes to blow things up), the Frankenstein-like butler, Lurch, wacky witch Grandma and Uncle Fester, whose hobby was illuminating light bulbs in his mouth. If none of that makes any sense to you, you probably weren’t a fan of the hit 1960s TV series or the more recent Hollywood film based on the darkly humorous family.

For boomers, geeks and goths who loved the finger-snapping show, the spooky, kooky family musical was resurrected last Friday night at Camino Real Playhouse, San Juan Capistrano, in all their creepy, anti-conformist demeanor. Currently in their 29th season, CRP’s “The Addams Family” is directed by resident régisseur, Dan Blackley, musically directed by artiste extraordinaire, Marc Marger, and invigoratingly choreographed by the amazing Joanna Tsang Segelson. Executive Producers are Beverly Blake and Tom Scott. Running through June 9th, performances are set for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8pm, and matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm.

Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, whose excellent book kept Jersey Boys from being just another juke-box musical, got to write some very funny lines in-between the songs and draft a loose plot around the Addams family clan, living in their eerie mansion, which, for some reason, is located in Central Park. Grammy award winning composer Andrew Lippa (“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Big Fish,” “Prince of Egypt”), who has also performed at Carnegie Hall as a singer, was honored with a Best Original Score Tony nomination for his work on “The Addams Family” in 2010.

In the original stage production, instead of drawing the plot from the television series or films, the producers wanted to devise an original musical based solely on the Addams' cartoons, resulting in an off-beat take on 19th century gothic. The musical throws you into the action with numbers involving the risen dead, with Morticia (Emma Hutchinson) and Gomez (Robert Voccola) featured in a steamy tango, and other shamelessly demonstrative lustful affections, Wednesday (Charlee Rubino) stretching Pugsley (Chase Benson) on the rack in an act of sisterly devotion, Choreographer Ms. Segelson drawing a page from “Thriller,” and the sexually ambiguous Uncle Fester (Jereme Haley) having a love affair with the moon in a cloyingly whimsical moment.

The show, a zany mix of goulash vaudeville routines, Borscht Belt jokes, sitcom zingers and romantic plotlines, begins with the expected milking of classic Addams perversity, in which morbidity is automatically substituted for cheerfulness. The premise of the story has Gomez and Morticia discovering to their alarm that Wednesday has fallen in love with Lucas Beineke (Ari Paltin), a young man from a middle-class all-American home, after almost hitting him with an arrow from her crossbow.

What’s more, Wednesday has invited Lucas and his conventional parents — Mal (Rich Hutchinson) and Alice (Katherine Robinson) — for dinner to announce their marital plans, and secretly reveals the news to her adoring dad, Gomez (without her mother knowing, of course), enlisting him to rally the family into behaving like “normal” folks - whatever that is. The problem is, the Addams family has no idea how weird they are. But all these worries have been set to lively music by Mr. Lippa, which includes a chorus line of grisly ancestral cadavers from the family crypt, summoned by the hopeless romantic Uncle Fester to help ensure the young couple’s intentions. The romance is complicated, however, by both sets of clashing parents.

The cast truly embodies the classic characters fully, and along with a talented ensemble, fills the stage with energy from start to finish. Director Blackley, with his hand-picked cast of 18, has crafted a show that is thrilling and moves at a spirited clip. Many of the show’s deliciously macabre trademarked eccentricities have been included in the stage production. It's never dull, and this perpetual celebration of “Opposites Day” runs rich with fish-out-of-water humor and even a few worthy truths before the distinctive “Move Toward The Darkness” finale. Still anti-social, yes... but not so much polemical, “The Addams Family” is a character-fueled comedy that aches to be seen.

The joke, of course, is that in this Bizarro-like world, screams replace sentiment, torture is a kind of caring, and death is the real deal they not only yearn for but want to share. Yet as much as the Addamses have their oddities (a mystery grandmother living in the dormers; a zombie butler; a bald uncle with a crush on the moon; a vampiress mother and nightmarish Latin dad whose bratty boy is crazy about munitions), the Beineke family also has their own skeletons in the closet, bats in the belfry, and secrets dying to be exposed. Those skeletons can be picked clean on any show day.

The musical’s numbers are memorable, catchy and ghoulish, which Voccola and Co. deliver admirably. Every performance is outstanding, notably the overture “When You’re An Addams,” the ensemble’s upbeat “Full Disclosure,” sang during a post-dinner game of truth-telling, the cryptic, ancestral dance number “One Normal Night,” and Gomez’ and Wednesday’s loving lament, “Happy/Sad.”

Ms. Hutchinson kills it as the possessed and willowy Morticia, whose priceless deadpan manner is one of her great assets. The slinky, femme-fatale mistress of the house—beautiful…sexy…brooding—with legs and hair that go from here to eternity, has a whisky-and-velvet alto voice that screams “come hither,” as she makes mincing steps in her fitted black dress.

Mr. Voccola’s smooth-tongued, oily-unctuous Gomez is a rhapsodic romantic, a hot-blooded Latin lover, a fiery libido compared to Ms. Hutchinson’s ice-queen Morticia. He consumes the role of Gomez, from his “Ryan Gosling” mustache with soul patch to his propensity to rain spontaneous kisses on Morticia's arm every time she speaks in French.

Though infused with a Spanish accent that slides into Transylvanian, Mr. Voccola rises to the occasion and brings energy and polish to one number after another. His timing is impeccable in "Trapped," in which he truly seems torn between keeping that promise to his daughter and his honesty to his wife. He also conveys a syrupy wistfulness in "Wednesday's Growing Up," and then demonstrates the obligatory fire in the second act’s, "Live Before We Die." And, with a score colored throughout by Gomez’ Spanish ancestry and flamenco/tango stylings, the “Tango de Amor” dance at the end of the show is one to remember.

But it is Mrs. Bieneke (Ms. Robinson—a belter of deceptively mousy demeanor) and her husband, Mal (Mr. Hutchinson) who gets the Act II opening showstopper, “Waiting,” and then again with “Crazier Than You,” which features Wednesday shooting an apple off the head of her betrothed, Lucas (with a little help from the spirits). Ms. Robinson is especially hilarious in the scene where her usually inhibited character drinks the Addams family equivalent of truth serum. Mr. Hutchinson, who also writes, directs and performs with the Playhouse’s Janus Radio Theater Players, has a full resume of accomplished roles, including “Sherlock Holmes and the Masters of Crime,” “The Sunshine Boys,” and “The Pink Panther Strikes Again.” When he lets his hair down at the end of the show, so to speak, we definitely see a different side of the repressed gent.

Mr. Haley's infectiously gleeful, gender-bending Fester is a sui generis, a true one of a kind, and a delight to watch. Adding much to the chemistry of the show, not only as a noxious narrator, but odd-man Greek chorus of sorts, he has the audience in the palm of his (or her) hand most of the night, getting some of the evening’s most amusing scenes. Lanette Gutman is also appropriately batty as a wild, 102-year old Grandma, who comes across as an old acid head out of Woodstock, but makes the mighty most out of a smaller part, unleashing her unique brand of humor and delivering splendid irreverence that stops the show with every punchline.

Mr. Paltin, as Lucas, excels in his part as the boyfriend, and is prominent in the songs, “Waiting”and “Crazier Than You.” Lucas attempts to get on Pugsley's good side but Pugsley clearly dislikes him for "stealing" his sister. Lucas reveals that he wants to marry Wednesday because she makes him "totally crazy," while Wednesday wants to marry him because he just "talks good" and is willing to die for her. A little quirky, but the two have strong chemistry and seem like a natural fit.

Mr. Benson is totally anarchic as the cigar-smoking, prankster Pugsley, who loves to be tortured and ready to depress a detonator at the drop of a hat. The questionably alive Lurch (Tom Patrick), the slow-motion, deep-groaning butler, is literally a towering presence in elevator shoes, and whose surprise rumbling basso profundo steals the show in the finale.

As clever as this musical mash-up is (with shout-outs to Sharon Keener’s wicked props and stage management, Tom Scott, Paul Hunn, Greg Corey, Robb Rigg and Beverly Blake’s inventively creepy sets, Daisy McGarr’s caricaturing costumes, and Roger Woodcock’s sepulchral lighting), we find that “The Addams Family” is a warm-hearted story revolving around madcap family drama and macabre characters. A certain amount of that is instigated by Wednesday, revolving around Ms. Rubino’s character, who dominates the stage and the score, and meets every note with vibrato and rich tone.

Wednesday is a very consistent character. She’s intelligent, forbidding, sadistic, solemn and something of a psychopath. As far as her skills go, she’s a natural leader and extremely comfortable handling medieval weapons of torture. I’ll definitely give her that point (no pun intended).

The additional tech wizards of the show include Mike Keener, Connor Huch, Christian Hermanson and Kayli Simoni. Ensemble Ancestors include Brianne Nicole Pusztai, Conrad Johnson, Gary Greene, Lauren Rhodes, Madison Banks, Paty Broderick, Shaun Adams and Stacy Cawthon.

It's a classic cult favorite, a witty script and a great night out at the theatre. No matter how weird your family is, you can take heart that the Addams family is weirder.

Unless your last name is Munster. “The Addams Family” continues at Camino Real Playhouse through June 9th in San Juan Capistrano. For tickets and general information, contact This show is Highly Recommended!

Chris Daniels

Arts Reviewer

The Show Report