Tuesday, October 6, 2015

STAGES’ The Addams Family Musical A Stretch, But It Works!

Addams Family (Athena Van Dyke as Lurch, Dahlia/Lavender Wyatt as Grandma,
as Kai Nevers as Pugsley, Elijah Webbas Gomez, Caitriona Johnstone as
Morticia, Emily Neibergall as Wednesday, Max Nevers as Uncle Fester). 

Photo by Frank Hunt.

By Tina Arth

Hillsboro’s STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy has historically limited its productions to typical family fare – Cheaper By The Dozen, High School Musical, and various “Jr.” shows, productions abbreviated to make them more accessible to a young cast. However, the program is stretching its participants by venturing into deeper water this year. The Addams Family, based on Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons and the iconic TV series, is definitely not a children’s show. Authors Marshall Brockman and Rick Elice have included a number of adult themes and jokes that make the show more PG-13 (and a whole lot funnier) than expected, and the music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (23 songs, including several big production numbers) require the cast to work much harder than is usual in youth theatre. It is impressive to see how well director Luis Ventura and the current crop of STAGES actors are rising to the challenge.

The story, as expected in expanded cartoons, is simplistic (if somewhat convoluted). Brooding Goth princess Wednesday Addams has fallen in love with a normal guy, Lucas Beineke, and the time has come for the two families to meet. She confides in her father, Gomez, that she and Lucas are engaged – but begs him not to tell Morticia (her mother) until the time is right. The entire Addams family (including a host of really interesting dead ancestors) is expected to behave for one night like a regular family. Lucas’ parents are pure middle America, and (despite the Addams’ attempts to behave) are more than a little confused about the bizarre family, although they tend to ascribe most of the weirdness to the fact that the Addams are New Yorkers – an alien species to the Ohio born and bred Beinekes. After accidentally consuming a magic potion meant for Wednesday, Alice Beineke realizes that her marriage has become a sham; tightly wound husband Mal, once a passionate and spontaneous lover, has become a distant workaholic.  Chaos ensues – but of course it all works out in the end. Wednesday and Lucas, Mal and Alice, Gomez and Morticia, even Uncle Fester and his true love, the moon – all work out their differences, and the ancestors go quietly back to their graves, reassured that their descendants have resolved their many issues and no longer need their guidance.

Most of the show’s principals have extensive show-biz bios and are well prepared to take on the more demanding roles of the show. The surprise standout is 15-year-old Elijah Webb (“Gomez”) – this is only his second play and his first musical. He delivers a mature performance, has great timing and gravitas, and delivers strong solos in many of the show’s musical numbers. STAGES veteran Marlena Starrs (“Alice”) nails her transition from repressed Ohio housewife to a kind of lusty second-adolescence, and she is equally convincing in both personas. Emily Niebergall’s “Wednesday” is a delightful mixture of darkness and light – her personality as quirky as the bright yellow dress over her dark stockings and darker mien – and she brings a solid voice to some of the show’s best numbers. “Morticia,” in the hands of a very experienced Caitriona Johnstone, is a classic control freak, and the moment when she realizes that she has “become her mother” (every bride’s nightmare!) is simply lovely.

William Crawford’s set is darkly beautiful, detailed, and efficient. Costume coordinator Sandy Wilson has outdone herself with the Ancestor’s attire, portraying a wide variety with character-appropriate yet ghostly all-white togs – and the Ancestors’ makeup is superb.

Congratulations to Director Ventura for his willingness to take the STAGES program to the next level – one can only imagine what we’ll see with their next production, Shakespeare’s The Tempest (and no, there is no Tempest, Jr.!)

The Addams Family is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington Street, Hillsboro through Sunday, October 11th with 7:30 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

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