It’s wonderful to know top-drawer musical comedy is alive and well at the Schuster Center thanks to the outstanding local premiere of “The Addams Family,” the absolutely hilarious 2010 musical inspired by the legendary creations of cartoonist Charles Addams in “The New Yorker” and presented on the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series.
Completely retooled with new songs and tighter character development since its messy 2009 pre-Broadway Chicago tryout (which I loathed) and subsequently shaky Broadway mounting, “The Addams Family” finally gels as its wonderfully witty absurdity, surprisingly touching tenderness and enchanting whimsy clearly, cleanly coalesces. Walking the fine line of glorifying and poking fun at death without being in poor taste, librettists Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys”) have streamlined the material to focus on the coming-of-age subtext stemming from the quickie engagement between morbid Wednesday Addams (a marvelously intense Jennifer Fogarty) and her new boyfriend Lucas Beineke (an appealing Bryan Welnicki). Brickman and Elice oddly glosses over the fact that Wednesday and Lucas seem too young for marriage, but the utter shock of the engagement serves its pivotal purpose nonetheless, especially when Wednesday begs her easygoing dad Gomez (terrific comedian Jesse Sharp) not to tell her assertive, perceptive mom Morticia (the cool, statuesque KeLeen Snowgren) about her big news. As Gomez and Morticia cope with Wednesday’s budding relationship and the arrival of Lucas’ straight-laced parents from Ohio, the notion of what one considers “normal” takes on deep, relatable significance. After all, despite serious eccentricities or overt dysfunction in any family, love can prevail if accepting and appreciating someone’s differences is a priority. And in this breezy tale, tunefully broadened by composer Andrew Lippa’s nifty Tony-nominated score recalling Mel Brooks’ clever ditties for “The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein,” the transformative power of acceptance proves monumental.
Wright State University alum E. Cameron Holsinger skillfully recreates Jerry Zaks’ sharp, fast-moving direction, coaxing excellent portrayals across the board. Sharp, who deserves his own sitcom, maintains a very charming, eager-to-please disposition throughout while believably conflicted and moved as Wednesday’s engagement consumes Gomez’s thoughts. He also has a delightful chemistry with Snowgren, who never allows Morticia’s iciness to supersede her underlying warmth. Fogarty, an impressive vocal knockout who nearly stops the show with a dynamic rendition of “Pulled,” is equally well suited with Welnicki, who particularly joins her for the catchy “Crazier Than You,” a strong pop number that humorously raises the stakes of Wednesday and Lucas’ affection even though their dating history could certainly benefit from more backstory. Shaun Rice endearingly guides the proceedings as the peculiarly moon-adoring Uncle Fester. Jeremy Todd Shinder’s portrayal of devious Pugsley Addams strikes a chord during “What If,” a cute song about Pugsley and Wednesday’s unique bond. Scene-stealer Amanda Bruton is a downright hoot as the daffy, vulgar Grandma. Dan Olson, who is given a prime moment to shine during the finale, scores many laughs as imposing butler Lurch. The appropriately uptight Mark Poppleton and genially offbeat Blair Anderson are great as Mal and Alice Beineke. Ensemble members James Michael Avance, Chloe O. Davis, Jake Delaney, Lexie Dorsett, Aaron Fried, Elizabeth Hake, Katie Mebane, Julia Lancione, Galloway Stevens, and Julio Cataono Yee unobtrusively weave in and out of the action as the Addams ancestors.
Additionally, Jonathan Ritter recreates Sergio Trujillo’s original choreography with finesse, specifically the amusingly energetic opening number “When You’re an Addams” and Sharp and Snowgren’s sultry “Tango de Amor.” James Kronzer’s set design modifications of Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott’s original creations retain a stately allure. Crouch and McDermott’s costumes are also attractive. Natasha Katz’s lighting design is strikingly moody. Basil Twist and Gregory Meeh respectively supply eye-catching puppetry and special effects.
Trust me when I say “The Addams Family” would still be playing on Broadway if this splendid cast and revised script were involved. Peering into the dark side has never been more delectably entertaining.
“The Addams Family” continues through March 10 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 65 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $15-$96. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com