By: Kevin Prokosh
The Addams Family, the American chamber musical getting its Winnipeg debut by Dry Cold Productions, wastes little time in giving its audience what it already knows and wants.
Baby boomers wishing for a nostalgic return to the trash television of the ’60s are immediately assured they have come to the right place with the welcome appearance of Thing, the death-fixated clan’s disembodied pet hand, whose finger-snapping accompanies Vic Mazzy’s indelible theme music from the cult TV sitcom.
The opening number, When You’re an Addams, re-introduces the family headed by Gomez, who is exhilarated to be in a graveyard, where a man can feel bad to be alive. It’s an effective scene-setter; the audience gets to see the ghoulish brood in the flesh, deathly pallid as it may be.
There’s macabre matriarch Morticia, who speaks about her longing for "darkness, grief and unspeakable sorrow." Next to her is devil-child daughter Wednesday and cigar-smoking young son Pugsley. Rounding out the creepy household is bald-pated Uncle Fester (who jams a lightbulb in his mouth and it turns on), frightful Grandma and the grunting butler Lurch.
In this bizarre world, based on the magazine cartoons that Charles Addams debuted in the 1930s, screams are interchangeable with sentiment, torture is an act of sibling love and death is something to relish and share. It is these spooky, ooky freaks who are the loving models of family values.
In five minutes, the writing team of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have satisfied every viewer expectation, as their story is then outlined in the tune (We Have) A Problem.
Yes, we have a problem.
The plot arrives DOA, a bland cultural clash about lovers with mismatched parents. It’s one of the oldest stories in the book. Crossbow-wielding Wednesday’s heart has been pierced by one of Cupid’s arrows and she has become secretly engaged to a square named Lucas Beneike.
When the Addamses host a dinner party to meet Lucas and his emotionally constipated parents, she pleads with them to act normal. The wildly different lifestyles collide, generating plenty of laughs that were funny in the ’60s... and one from the ’50s (if you remember The Honeymooners).
That’s about all there is, because Brickman and Elice command little emotional investment from their audience.
The families sit down to eat as if at the Last Supper, setting the table for a post-meal entertainment called Full Disclosure that causes havoc.
Much of the second act is taken up repairing the damage.
Director Donna Fletcher has assembled a local cast of actors who not only have the right look for their iconic characters, but know how to play them with brio. Most entertaining is Kevin McIntyre, as the ever-romantic, Spanish-accented Gomez. His singing stands out among many just competent voices.
Stage vet Stan Lesk is compelling as hopeless romantic Uncle Fester, delivering a touching The Moon and Me. Brenda Gorlick brings appealing sepulchral charm to Morticia and supplies some choice dancing in Tango De Amor.
One disappointment is her dress, which is supposed to have a neckline that’s cut down to Venezuela but never ventures south of St. Vital.
Julie Lumsden is able to make Wednesday’s challenging shift from glowering teen to lovesick ingenue while singing a powerful Pulled.
The supporting cast is strong, led by the largest, John Anderson as Lurch, who is delightful. His 11th-hour smile looks as if it might shatter his face. Mackenzie Wojcik earns empathy as the pain junkie Pugsley, while Mariam Bernstein adds her usual comic flair to the role of Grandma. Naomi Forman’s Alice Beneike is the big winner during Full Disclosure.
Kudos are earned by the versatile Ancestors, the show’s chorus, the four-piece onstage band and the gruesome makeup of Post Mortem Productions.
Andrew Lippa’s pastiche tunes are, for the most part, unremarkable. You leave humming only The Addams Family famous TV theme, but none of the other tunes from the musical.