REVIEW - "The Addams Family," La Habra High School
Featuring one of the strangest and most eccentric families of all times, Andrew Lippa’s musical, “The Addams Family,” comes to the Plummer stage in Fullerton under the Direction of Brian Johnson, with Musical Direction by Greg Haake and Vicki Schindele. The show marks La Habra High School Theater Guild’s 73rd production, and plays from April 6th through the 15th, with the final matinee performance next Sunday at 1:30pm.
Yes, they’re crazy and they’re kooky and, for many of us, the graveyard humor of America’s first Goth family – “The Addams Family” – is very much a part of our childhood. The antics of Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester and the kids, Wednesday and Pugsley, together with their monstrous monosyllabic butler, Lurch, began life back in the 30’s as a cartoon created by Charles Addams. Published in The New Yorker, it eventually became an iconic TV series which was later revived as a hit movie. Sometime later, it reappeared as an animated series and now it relives as a spirited stage show. With a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the musical depicts a ghoulish American family with an affinity for all things macabre.
In the off-beat, upside-down world of “The Addams Family,” to be sad is to be happy, to feel pain is to feel joy, and death and suffering are the stuff of their dreams. Nonetheless, this quirky family still has to deal with many of the same challenges faced by any other family. In their world, the family has lived by a set of unique values for hundreds of years and Gomez and Morticia, the patriarch and matriarch of the clan, would be only too happy to continue living that way. Overall, “The Addams Family” is entertaining, funny, surreal and life-affirming – despite the ghoulish comedy. It’s a coming of age story told in true Addams Family style with Gomez trying to come to terms with every father’s nightmare - his daughter is growing up!
As the story unravels, Gomez, a proud man of Spanish descent, finds himself caught between his wife and sadistic daughter, Wednesday (Mercy Thornton), the ultimate princess of darkness and troublesome teen. Wednesday Addams has fallen in love with Lucas - a sweet, smart young man from a respectable family, a man her parents have never met. And if that weren’t upsetting enough, she confides in her father and begs him not to tell her mother they plan to marry. Now, Gomez must do something he’s never done before — keep a secret from his beloved wife, Morticia. Cara Mia! Everything will now change for the whole family on the fateful night they host a dinner for Wednesday’s “normal” boyfriend and his very straight Midwestern parents.
But can they survive that one normal night? All remains to be seen as the iconic Addams Family members are put through their paces in an attempt not to frighten the Beineke family.
An exceptionally talented cast from this award winning high school drama group sets the bar high with an exemplary performance in this fun, madcap romp, acing those big production numbers and memorable songs with “relative” ease, including “When You’re An Addams,” “One Normal Night” and “Full Disclosure.” But it is the solos – Fester poignantly declaring his love in “The Moon and Me,” or the hot-blooded Gomez lamenting his marriage problems in “Not Today,” or his frustration over the ordeals of parenthood with “Wednesday’s Growing Up,” that we all empathize with.
Bryan Connolly, barely recognizable under heavy make-up, padding, and with a shaved head (or so it seems), plays the barking mad Uncle Fester, rotund and child-like, hugely enthusiastic and totally incorrigible. While Atalia Zahrndt, with a sexy, dry wit, feline eyes, jet-black bouffant and slinky black gown, glides around the stage as Morticia in dominant style. And Wednesday, the original deadpan snarker and central character of the show, is none done better than through Mercy Thornton’s eyes. Always a strong presence onstage, Ms. Thornton portrays a blast of attitude and true vocal prowess while her character tortures Pugsley on a rack, admitting that love is now pulling her in a new direction ("Pulled"). Like mother like daughter, little Wednesday learned from the best.
But it is Zachary Fogel who steals the show as the hen-pecked yet totally devoted head of the family, Gomez. The actor possesses a theatrical gusto that makes the musical move whenever he is on stage. Fogel’s Gomez is zany, loony and amazing, and he brings a mix of perfection with his own unique twist to the character. His voice presents a precise Spanish accent while performing his solos, particularly “Trapped" and “What If,” two numbers that rely not only on vocal ability but also a keen understanding of comic timing. The end result is nothing short of impeccable, never missing a witty joke, a silly moment of banter, or a chance to land a zinging one-liner. Fogel’s rendition of “Happy/Sad” is a sweet, tender moment of true inner love for his daughter.
Morticia (Atalia Zahrndt) has an intense stage presence all laced neatly into the corset of her character’s stoic expressionless nature. The hilarious zingers and quips that zip from her lips are simply to die for. Ms. Zahrndt looks statuesque and moves with an elegant grace, ostensibly channeling Elvira, the late-night ‘Mistress of the Night.’ Her signature number, “Just Around the Corner” is a priceless showcase of sassy attitude and intense vocal power. She plays exceptionally well off Gomez, and their duet “Live Before We Die” becomes one of the most tender, albeit odd, moments of the show. One of the most charming highlights of the show, however, is the passionate make-up scene with Morticia and Gomez, ending with a perfect Flamenco-style tango (“Tango De Amor”).
Makayla Davis as Pugsley does an exceptional job of not only being a sneaky little devil, but showing off some serious vocal chops. In addition to one featured solo (“Honor Roll”), his rendition of “What If?” with Grandma (Hannah Rhode) is seriously demented. The song’s twisted lyrics deliver hilarity to the audience as he (or rather, she) sings them in a perfect angelic voice.
Lurch (Jake Rhode) provides a cameo-style role in this musical. Despite being present for almost the entire show, Rhode never utters a word, only long, plaintive groans, until the end of the show. As an iconic favorite, his zombie-like demeanor makes him appear as the epitome of the undead butler, but, when heard in the soulful “Move Toward the Darkness,” it creates another perspective of the character altogether.
The Beineke Family rounds out the main cast, and is always full of surprises whether it’s Mal (Gabriel Taylor) and his rigid outlook on life, Lucas (Miles Henry) the love-struck betrothed, or Alice (Olivia Cooksey) the rhyming home maker who is secretly a little fed-up, neglected and unhappy. Keep a close eye on Alice as she transforms from quaint and quirky into a wild and wacky version of herself during “Waiting.” Ms. Cooksey provides a full-on blast of darkness as she lets it all go in this spicy number, sinking her teeth into the part as she embraces her future inner Addams.
And who’s to say if Grandma or Fester is the kookiest member of the Addams clan? Connolly’s character is in love with the moon and Ms. Rhode’s character has dubious relations to the family tree at best, but the pair of them are a real riot. Grandma causes comic calamity during her scene in “Full Disclosure” and her overall tottering gait has everyone convinced that she’s 102. But it’s Fester’s sprightly energy that has everyone confused as he leaps all over the stage talking about love. Connolly’s voice is quite mellow and melodious for his featured solo “The Moon and Me,” an enchanting number that fills the auditorium in sweet, syrupy emotion.
Choreographer Annie Lavin zaps the cast with jolts of life when it comes to the dance routines. Ms. Lavin’s movements are intense and cleanly executed. The dance break in “When You’re An Addams” involves several intricate moves and routines in the line-dance segment alone. “Secrets” features jazzy jezebel hip swivels with dips and twirls while “Just Around the Corner” features line marching and perfect synchronization.
The movement of the numbers is a crucial part of the musical’s momentum and Ms. Lavin hits the “nail in the coffin” with her outstanding sequences.
Set Designer Jim Oxley crafts the look of the spooktacular Addams Family manor and Director Johnson creates realistic scene changes, often employing some clever visual trickery with the aid of fog, lighting and special effects. Rather than burdening the intimate performance space with furnishings, heavy props, and scenery he implores the use of what he already has on hand: The Addams Family Ancestors.
Turning the ensemble members into props and furniture is a smart way to get them more involved in the love story as well as save space for ease of actor movement on stage. Ghosts as furniture becomes a highly amusing concept, particularly during scenes featuring Pugsley.
Costume Designer Tana Carmichael transforms this chorus of Addams ghostly ancestors into the show’s eye-catching company of dancers dressed in an outstanding array of costumes to help ensure that both the quick and the dead are equally full of character. Imagine an ensemble support group of almost 60 ghost-like spirits on the stage at a time in varying degrees of dress, from eighteenth century to space age filling the theatre with aural and ocular senses in almost every scene.
It’s comic perfection at its best, and a very good bet that The Addams Family will haunt the Plummer Auditorium for months to come. So halt your decaying, hear what we’re saying, time now to reappear— at the Plummer, that is, for La Habra High School’s newest show! And before it ends on the 15th, when all of the ancestors head back into the family crypt for good and this phenomenal show vanishes into the night.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets, purchase them online at www.lhhsguild.com
Chris Daniels Arts Reviewer