Full disclosure. I thought I’d seen my local fill of The Addams Family from the national tour to community theater to high school, but Wright State University’s outstanding production is such an absolute hit I’m tempted to see it again.
Skillfully directed by Joe Deer with breezy transitions, an astute balance of tenderness and zaniness, and a clever nod to The Sound of Music just for kicks, The Addams Family, adapted by librettists Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice as inspired by Charles Addams’ classic cartoons, is an engaging musical comedy about love, acceptance, identity, second chances, and letting go. The sudden news that gloomy Wednesday (strikingly intense Michaella Waickman) is happily engaged to All-American, easygoing Lucas Beineke (amiable tenor Eric Thompson) causes worlds to collide, secrets to fester, and fear to grow. But once Gomez (charismatic and debonair Hunter Minor) and Morticia (elegantly comedic Robin Dunavant) come to terms with recognizing and respecting Wednesday’s maturity as a young woman who knows what she wants, the family bonds are strengthened beyond expectation.
Brickman and Elice, with incredibly tuneful assistance from composer Andrew Lippa, dabble in the Fiddler on the Roof playbook from the outset (When You’re an Addams is basically Tradition with an emphasis on heritage/lineage instead of culture/faith), but the age-old notion that parents must ultimately learn to step back and see the future through their child’s eyes, especially when marriage is on the agenda, still tugs the heart. In fact, Happy/Sad, sung with beautifully wistful contradiction by Minor with a final embrace by Waickman for added tear-jerking effect, recalls the many meaningful, touching exchanges Tevye has with his devoted daughters. Granted, Fiddler doesn’t contain an elaborate dinner party in which Fydeka’s parents pay Tevye and Golde a visit, but this show smartly gives us ample time to get to know, understand and relate to Lucas’ conservative dad Mal (perfectly hard-nosed, uptight and out of touch Nick Martin) and meek mom Alice (Emma Bratton, impressively conveying Alice’s duality in the uninhibited Waiting). And in doing so, the sheer acknowledgment that all families have their ups and downs, saviors and skeletons, greatly adds to the show’s universality.
By and large, Deer’s cast is utterly delightful. Minor fantastically exudes Spanish flair in his breakthrough performance, bringing sharp suaveness to Trapped with sword in tow and fierce passion to his knockout Not Today complete with chair flair that would make Liza “Mein Herr” Minnelli swoon. He also joins Dunavant for an awesomely sexy, scintillating and humorous Tango De Amor, one of many wonderfully flavorful routines choreographed by WSU alumna Dionysia Williams. Waickman, having a banner year and most recently seen as Alice Russell in the Human Race Theatre Company’s production of Lizzie, is an expressive, endearingly haunting presence, notably reiterating Wednesday’s newfound emotional confliction in Pulled. In addition to the aforementioned Thompson, Martin and Bratton, Erik Moth charms as Fester (playfully showcased in “The Moon and Me”), Amanda Astorga is a hilariously kooky Grandma, Dylan Tacker dutifully stalks mysteriously as Lurch, and Parker Kaibas is a fine fit as Pugsley. The action is also strongly accented by the Male Ancestors (Marcus Antonio, Tommy Cole, Mitchell Lewis, Jake Siwek, Jeremy Weinstein) and Female Ancestors (Lauren Eifert, Tassy Kirbas, Emma Metzger, Maggie Musco, Jeannine Sincic). Matthew Shanahan and Sophie Hardy are the Swings.
The production’s top-notch, gorgeously ghoulish appeal extends to scenic designer David J. Castellano, costumer Zoë Still (notably providing a nifty journey through time for the Ancestors from the Prehistoric era to the 1920s and more), lighting designer Matthew P. Benjamin, sound designer James Dunlap, dialect coach Deborah Thomas, properties master John Lavarnway, and the WSU debut of music director Wade Russo leading a talented orchestra.
It’s an extremely busy, competitive time within the local arts scene, but don’t miss what is clearly one of the best productions of the season thus far. Move toward the darkness and have a blast.
The Addams Family continues through Nov. 17 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Dayton. Performances are 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $15-$25. Call (937) 775-2500 or visit wright.edu/tdmp.