Cartoons make good fodder for the Broadway musical mill; there have been lots of them. Li’l Abner springs immediately to mind along with Annie and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, all based on comic strips. But I know of no shows derived from a single panel cartoon other than “The Addams Family,” which was created by Charles Addams and appeared primarily in The New Yorker from 1938 to 1988, when the cartoonist died. Of course, the oddball family of ghoulish characters gained greater notoriety with the television series with John Astin as Gomez Addams and Carolyn Jones as his wife Morticia (1964-66) and the subsequent film (1991) with Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston in the leads.
The musical version of The Addams Family, with book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, tries hard to find a balance between tongue-in-cheek, good-natured grimness and the natural ebullience of the musical comedy form. The idea of deriving joy from torture, happiness from sewers and ecstasy from the very idea of death makes for interesting contrasts and for the most part works very well. The music and lyrics are serviceable in telling the story of Addams daughter Wednesday (a grimly winsome Courtney Hatcher) and her love for a “normal” boy named Lucas (excellent Jeffrey Brian Adams) that injects conflict into the cheerfully morbid family. The show has more than a few standout moments of pure musical comedy delight. And there is tremendous value in the wonderful notion that “normal” is an illusion with every family having its quirks and a complete cast of oddballs.
San Jose Stage Company’s production of The Addams Family has a lot going for it starting with a stellar cast of Bay Area favorites. Johnny Moreno brings his suave, patented charisma to the role of Gomez and Allison F. Rich, tall, svelte and elegant, looks more like the original drawing of Morticia than anyone. Her second act number, “Just Around the Corner,” is a show-stopping delight. In supporting roles, D. Scott McQuiston is irresistibly adorable as Uncle Fester, Zac Shuman is perfect as Wednesday’s little brother Pugsley and Donna Federico is a gem as witchy, chortling Grandma Addams.
As Lucas’ straight-laced parents Mal and Alice Beineke, Edward Hightower and Elise Youseff have terrific moments in the songs “Waiting,” when Alice, her emotions released by a purloined potion slipped into her drink, reveals the frustrations of her marriage, and in “Crazier Than You,” when Mal shrugs off his remote, businessman’s distance to regain a loving relationship with his wife. And a hard-working ensemble (Carmichael “CJ” Blankenship, Nicole Frydman, Brian Herndon, Adrienne Herro, Brittney Monroe and Jordan Sidfield) sings and dances up a storm throughout as ghostly Addams ancestors.
As the towering Addams Family butler, Lurch, Will Springhorn, Jr. has undeniable presence as well as bringing a certain indefinable something to the role. He greets each and every audience member as he or she enters with a variety of guttural utterances as well as…no. You must experience this for yourselves.
The Addams Family is handsomely mounted on a Gorey-esque black and white set by Michael Cook and lit by Michael Palumbo, with ideal costumes by Abra Berman and sound by John Koss.
The Addams Family runs through July 26 at The Stage, First and William Streets in Downtown San Jose.