Musical Review: The Addams Family Musical

For inSing

THE ADDAMS FAMILY MUSICAL 

15 November to 3 December at the MediaCorp MES Theatre in Singapore

Even almost 80 years after they first graced the pages of The New Yorker, Charles Addams’ creation remains popular. There are no shortage of Wednesday Addamses every Halloween, and the instantly recognisable Victor Mizzy-composed theme song is wont to make everyone snap along. It seems like a no-brainer for the larger-than-life clan to take to the stage in musical form.

Gomez (Cameron Blakely), Morticia (Rebecca Thornhill) Addams and their children Wednesday (Carrie Hope Fletcher) and Pugsley (Grant McIntyre) live a blissfully off-kilter existence. A dilapidated mansion situated in Central Park that is haunted by their ancestors serves as home. In addition to the immediate family, we also meet Grandma (Valda Aviks), Gomez’s brother Fester (Cory English), zombie butler Lurch (Dickon Gough) and the disembodied hand Thing.

The Addams Family is about to be thrown into chaos, because Wednesday is intent on marrying her boyfriend Lucas Beineke (Oliver Ormson), a normal, all-American boy whose family is from Ohio. This sends Gomez into a panic, as he goes about trying to hide Wednesday’s plans from her mother. When Lucas and his parents Alice (Charlotte Page) and Mal (Dale Rapley) visit the Addamses for dinner, Wednesday pleads with her family to ‘act normal’. Alas, normal is but an illusion, as the prospective in-laws meet the peculiar Addamses and are subjected to all manner of unexplained goings-on.

The show features music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, with a book by Marshall Rickman and Rick Elice. The initial Broadway production garnered mixed to negative reviews, and has since been reworked for a U.S. and U.K. tour – this production is the same one that just toured the U.K., with several key cast changes.

This reviewer didn’t have the highest expectations of the musical – it seemed like Rocky Horror lite, with the Beinekes as ersatz versions of Brad and Janet. Several Addams Family stories have hinged on regular folk being foils to our mysterious and creepy heroes, so this isn’t particularly new territory. Then there’s the matter of the whole thing hinging on Wednesday’s romantic relationships – isn’t that precisely the kind of thing Wednesday wouldn’t be into?

However, this reviewer was completely won over. The show is a delight, consistently funny and tuneful with a committed cast. The libretto is littered with silly puns and cheeky double entendres, most of which land. The tonal balance between the goofy light-heartedness and the macabre and diabolical that is so crucial to this property is pulled off without a hitch.

Under the direction of Andrew Corcoran, the pit orchestra sounds much larger than its eight musicians, with many pulling double or triple duty – pianist Joel Nah also plays the accordion, for instance. For the most part, the songs are not the persistent ear-worms this reviewer was hoping for, and with a few numbers, their inspirations are a little too apparent – the first verse of “Secrets” is more or less a reworked “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid. However, the cast more than sells it.

Then, there’s the design. Diego Pitarch’s set is cleverly designed to look more expensive than it is. There are Gothic accents in the right places, and plenty of cascading fog. The Addamses are all instantly recgonisable, with Pitarch’s costume designs retaining signature elements while judiciously adding flourishes. For example, Wednesday has a corset, and her dress isn’t straight black but a dark bluish-green.

The most impressive costumes belong to the assorted spectral ancestors who comprise the show’s Greek chorus, which include a pirate, a matador, a tribal warrior, a Spanish Inquisitor, a Roman Emperor and a Tudor Queen. These reminded this reviewer of the work of Colleen Atwood, who is Tim Burton’s regular costume designer. They look sufficiently authentic, while also being heightened and fantastical.

 

Blakely is a charismatic Gomez – the actor has remarkable physical comedy chops, and looks like he’s relishing every moment. It’s a larger-than-life performance that includes dance moves that seem physically impossible for human legs to execute – or at the very least, improbable. As the henpecked head of the house, the audience empathizes with Gomez, while also rooting for him because he’s such a dedicated father and husband. His warm rendition of the bittersweet number “Happy/Sad”, which draws inspiration from Sondheim’s song in Company named “Sorry/Grateful” aims squarely at heartstrings.

Thornhill sticks to what works, dutifully conveying the traits that Morticia has always been identified with. She exudes a wonderfully sardonic air, and glides across the stage with an effortless slinkiness. Her solo number “Death is Just Around the Corner” exemplifies the show’s synthesis of dark humour and pastiche of classic Broadway musicals. Blakely and Thornhill’s big dance number, “Tango de Amor”, is absolutely mesmerising.

Carrie Hope Fletcher – that’s all we need to say. The boundlessly talented, immensely likeable theatre star/online personality/author is a truly winning Wednesday. She and Blakely sell the father-daughter bonding moments for all they’re worth – it’s the second time they’ve played father and daughter, since Fletcher played Éponine and Blakely played Thénardier.

Just watching how she purposefully strides across the stage, crossbow in hand, one can tell she completely gets the character. Carrie’s largely teenage female fanbase contributed significantly to the show’s success in the U.K. If you’re overly attached to Christina Ricci’s specific portrayal of Wednesday, hearing the character sing about how she loves all things cute and cuddly might be discordant, but the character still feels like Wednesday throughout.

With the makeup and costumes, the supporting cast members are all convincing as their respective Addams denizens. McIntyre hits the sweet spot of making Pugsley unsettling but also weirdly endearing, while Aviks gets several key opportunities to steal the show. English’s Fester is bizarre and likeable, just the way the character should be. The already-towering Dickon Gough gets some extra height out of his platform boots, and displays laudable physicality as the inarticulate Lurch.

Alas, the weak link in the cast seems to be Oliver Ormson. He has the look of a handsome all-American jock, but his voice is too reedy and doesn’t complement Fletcher’s well enough, with Fletcher singing rings around him. Still, the pair generates adequate chemistry, and “Crazier Than You” is the wild ride it should be.

Page is the surprise standout as Alice – her character goes through quite the dramatic arc, and her solo in the Act One closer “Full Disclosure” has resonant feminist undertones. Page gives the part her all, and Rapley complements her nicely as the buttoned-down conservative, midwestern dad.

The Addams Family Musical is far from the kookiest, most out-there depiction of Charles Addams’ beloved creation, but even with its conventional storyline, there’s enough dark humour and stylistic oomph to propel the show. It’s a devilishly good time for the whole family, if you don’t mind lying to your kids when they ask you to explain some of the bawdier jokes.

Jedd Jong

 

Next to Abnormal: The Addams Family Musical Press Call

For inSing

NEXT TO ABNORMAL: THE ADDAMS FAMILY MUSICAL PRESS CALL

inSing gets acquainted with the mysterious, spooky, and altogether ooky clan as the musical comes to Singapore

By Jedd Jong

One might not realise it at first, but The Addams Family has been around as long as Superman has. The first one-panel comic by cartoonist Charles Addams debuted in The New Yorker in 1938, the same year the Man of Steel first appeared. In the intervening years, the characters of Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Fester and Grandma Addams, along with Lurch, Cousin Itt and Thing, have become pop cultural icons. The Addams Family has spawned numerous TV and film adaptations, and is a touchstone of the goth subculture.

In this musical, the Addamses confront a family crisis: Wednesday (Carrie Hope Fletcher) has fallen in love, and is planning to marry a boy named Lucas Beineke (Oliver Ormson). The catch – Lucas is from a normal all-American family, hailing from Ohio. When patriarch Gomez (Cameron Blakely) discovers his daughter’s intentions, he endeavours to keep it a secret from his wife Morticia (Rebecca Thornhill), putting a strain on their hitherto blissful marriage.

The Addamses invite the Beinekes, including Lucas’ parents Alice (Charlotte Page) and Mal (Dale Rapley), over for dinner. The Beinekes baulk at the surfeit of strangeness they encounter once they step past the gates of the Addamses’ dilapidated mansion in the middle of Central Park. The Beinekes meet the Addamses, including Gomez’s brother Fester (Cory English), the 102-year-old Grandma (Valda Aviks) and the family’s towering, inarticulate butler Lurch (Dickon Gough). Of course, there’s also Wednesday’s brother Pugsley (Grant McIntyre), whose impulsive actions upon fearing that he will lose his sister to Lucas lead to chaos for the Addamses and Beinekes alike.

The Addamses are temporarily moving into MediaCorp’s MES Theatre in Singapore, following a successful and widely-acclaimed U.K. tour. The show, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a libretto by Jersey Boys creators Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, had tryouts in Chicago in 2009, before opening on Broadway in 2010. This initial version received mixed-to-negative reviews, and has since been retooled with a reworked story and several changed songs for the North American tour, which began in 2011.

inSing was at the press call, where three of the show’s numbers were performed: “Death is Just Around the Corner”, in which Morticia reassures herself with the prospect of her eventual demise; “Pulled”, in which Wednesday tries to make sense of her affection towards Lucas and the change it’s had on her demeanour; and an excerpt from the dramatic Act 1 closing number “Full Disclosure”. We also got to witness the Ancestors in action – the show’s equivalent of a Greek chorus is a congress of five male and five female ghosts from Addams history past, including a pirate, a matador, a ballerina, a Tudor Queen and a Roman Emperor.

Cameron Blakely was just in Singapore on tour last year, playing the innkeeper Thénardier in Les Misérables. When asked to compare the way the two characters are as fathers, Blakely observed “Thénardier has no parenting skills whatsoever, he’s disastrous as a parent, whereas Gomez is the opposite. Unconditional love is what we strive for.”

For the role of Gomez, Blakely not only has to sing and dance, but do some swordfighting. “It’s so satisfying: he’s funny, romantic, serious, he’s got beautiful songs to sing,” Blakely said, adding that the role provides the opportunity to “free yourself completely: every little emotion you have, I can channel that through Gomez.”

Gomez’s beloved wife, the coolly seductive Morticia, is portrayed by Rebecca Thornhill. Thornhill, who is best known for playing Mrs. Wormwood in the musical Matilda, replaces Samantha Womack, who played Morticia in the U.K. tour. “The cast is so welcoming and so lovely. They’re just looking out for you all the time,” Thornhill enthused. She called the musical “a great piece” and the Morticia role “a great part,” saying she “lucked out” by clinching it.

Thornhill readily admits that she is unlike the elegant, coolly detached Morticia in real life. “I’m one of those people who goes across the floor and trips up before they get to the other side,” she said with a laugh. Putting on Morticia’s immediately recognisable ensemble helps Thornhill get into character. “When I get the makeup on, and the wig, it’s pretty different. Then for me, she’s there,” she revealed.

As in many other versions of The Addams Family, Morticia wields significant control over her husband, who has always been in her thrall. “I think she knows exactly how to drive Gomez insane, completely. You think it’s Gomez who’s the patriarch, but it’s Morticia who’s running the family,” Blakely observed.

For many audiences, Carrie Hope Fletcher, who plays the droll Wednesday, is the big draw. The 25-year-old is not only an accomplished theatre performer, but a popular YouTube celebrity and an author whose second book All That I Can See was published in July 2017. Fletcher’s turn as Éponine in Les Misérables earned her rave reviews – she had previously played Young Éponine as a child. Fletcher does ‘Watch Me Wednesdays videos, documenting the backstage goings-on and what the cast and crew get up to in their off hours.

Fletcher graciously posed with this reviewer’s custom action figure of Wednesday. Comparing herself to Wednesday, Fletcher said “she’s very feisty, she doesn’t let anyone get away with anything, and I think I’m good at standing up for myself. I’m very sure of who I am, as is Wednesday.” As a fan of the two films in which Christina Ricci played Wednesday, Fletcher actively pursued the part. “Wednesday is a dream role for any woman. She’s so crazy, and there are so few roles that let you be that crazy and let you run around with a crossbow shooting boys,” she quipped with a laugh, calling it “the best role ever”.

Fletcher’s life might seem absolutely charmed, but she is quick to remind fans that rejection is an unavoidable part of any actor’s existence. “Everyone’s who in this show probably went through ten reactions before they got this job,” she said, revealing that in the last three months, she herself had been turned down for six different roles. “It’s so easy to get discouraged, to get disheartened when you keep getting those rejections, but you just got to push forward, because when you do get that ‘yes’, it’s so worth it,” Fletcher explained.

The Addams Family happens to be in Singapore the same time The Sound of Music’s Von Trapp family is. When this writer asked Fletcher if the Addamses or the Von Trapps would win in a fight, she responded, without missing a beat, “The Addamses win hands-down. Wednesday’s got a cross-bow!” Fletcher imagined Wednesday killing the Von Trapp kids in descending order.

“Oh, we save the youngest for the last,” she deadpanned.

Playing Lucas, the object of Wednesday’s affections, is Oliver Ormson, who played Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. As the regular outsider, Lucas is the straight man in a show full of outlandish characters. “It was actually quite hard,” Ormson said about having to exercise the restraint to play the strait-laced, somewhat boring Lucas. “As an actor, it’s easy to lean over and try to be crazy as well.” Ormson is a comic book geek, and this reviewer had a brief conversation with the actor about the Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok movies after the interview.

Grandma is a scene-stealing character, and one that Valda Aviks has fun playing. “Being allowed to say whatever I think, I enjoy that, and that’s what Grandma does,” Aviks said. Aviks added that the cast was not given directives to pattern their performances after earlier film and TV incarnations of The Addams Family. “If anything, we looked at the cartoons, and tried to get a feeling of what Charles Addams had in his mind, and just got the idea that it was this kind of wonderful chaos and otherworldliness,” Aviks explained. “They are really strange characters but they live in the real world and they have real emotions,” she said of the Addamses.

Uncle Fester gets to break the fourth wall, addressing the audience and making pointed pop culture references. Fester also gets one of the show’s most bizarre moments, a number he which he serenades the unexpected someone – or something – he is in love with. Cory English has big shoes to fill, since the role was played by beloved English comedian/actor/presenter Les Dennis on the U.K. tour. “He’s not from this plane. He talks to the ancestors who are dead, and he also looks at the future,” English said of Fester. “He’s not just going to fall in love with a normal person, he’s going to fall in love with another object. It’s a different frequency, and I like to live there as well.”

Pugsley is typically depicted as being older than Wednesday, but the order of birth is switched around in the musical. Grant McIntyre’s somewhat unflattering bowl cut fringe isn’t a wig. “This was actually my haircut before I accepted the job. I’ve had this hairstyle for quite some time, actually,” McIntyre said. He joked that the hair cut was what got him the role, saying it “sealed the deal”. Speaking about Pugsley’s trouble-making behaviour in the show, McIntyre explained “because he is a child, he’s uninhibited and unaffected by the world, so he can do what he likes really, so that’s quite fun.”

Producers John Stalker and Katy Lipson spoke about assembling the tour, and paring the production down from the original Broadway version, which Stalker characterised as “over-produced” and “far too cumbersome”. “One of the tours in America toured in 21 trucks. We toured the UK with this in four,” Stalker proclaimed, giving a tip of the hat to scenic and costume designer Diego Pitarch, calling his work a “triumph” that “looks bigger than it actually is”.

Lipson, who produces the show through her company Aria Entertainment, pointed out the different musical styles reflected in the show’s songs: Wednesday and Lucas get a “contemporary pop beat” as the teen characters in the show, Fester’s songs draw on vaudeville tradition, while Gomez’s songs have a distinct Latin flavour. Morticia’s songs hark back to the tradition of showtunes by composers like Jerry Herman. The orchestra, led by musical director Andrew Corcoran, comprises “only eight musicians making such a big sound.”

Take your family to meet theirs from 15 November 3 December 2017. Tickets start from $65 (excluding $4 booking fee). Please visit  https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/caddams1217 for tickets.