The Addams Family – a new musical
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Queanbeyan City Council, The Q
Directed by Stephen Pike
Musically directed by Matthew Webster
Choreographed by Annette Sharpe
3-19 March 2017
Let’s face it. The Addams Family – the musical – wasn’t exactly considered to be an artistic success on Broadway. The fact that the show (ostensibly a flimsy vehicle for Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia Addams), managed to run for over 700 performances said more about star power than the material.
It’s perfectly understandable that an amateur company could see superficial appeal in this musical about the creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky family. On closer inspection however the premise is rather thin – Gomez and Morticia find out that their daughter, Wednesday is in love with a “normal” boy, Lucas and what’s worse he and his parents are coming to the Addams’ mansion for dinner – cue hilarity – well, kind of.
The Q’s production starts promisingly enough with the familar theme song (the audience heartily joining in for the characteristic “click-click”). From there on in the plot, various soupy subplots and showtunes crowbarred into the action prove to be more of a burden to the company in what is a classic example of a good production of a not-so-great show.
Part vaudeville slash panto slash melodrama slash romantic comedy, the material clearly suffers from an identity crisis which is a shame given the well-known characters should be a strength not a limitation. The fact that the songs are often tangential, inconsistently themed and unfortunately not particularly tuneful doesn’t exactly help matters either.
Despite these inherant challenges the main strength of this production lies in its casting. Gordon Nicholson as Gomez and Laine Hart as Morticia do most of the heavy lifting, effectively capturing the spirit (boom boom) to which this show is intended. Nicholson and Hart both exude a commanding physicality and presence and also prove to be the most adept at delivering the panto-esque elements of the show. This is no mean feat and they are to be congratulated.
Rachel Thornton’s Wednesday provides many vocal highlights, singing the pants off some of the biggest numbers of the show. Although Thornton would benefit from warming up less quickly and playing more deadpan throughout to allow for bigger payoffs, her performance impresses.
Tim Stiles is a dead ringer for Uncle Fester and certainly makes the most of what he’s been given despite being laboured with a slightly unnecessary subplot. He could afford to do less smirking at the audience to avoid pulling focus but he nails the mannerisms and gives an enjoyable performance.
Callum Doherty as Pugsley sings sweetly and gets some of the biggest laughs of the evening. This Pugsley deviates somewhat from the original and it’s a shame that the script gives his character nothing to do in the second act.
Lucas (Liam Downing) and his parents played by Joseph McGrail-Bateup and Deanna Gibbs offer a good “straight” foil to the Addams’ however their character progression could do with a little more contrast throughout to assist the development of their subplot.
Nathan Rutups portrayal of Lurch is an exercise in restraint that pays off in the second act.
Less successful is the seemingly gratuitous inclusion of the “Ancestors” ensemble being neither an insightful Greek Chorus or intelligent plot device. The involvement of the Ancestors in many scenes, songs and dance breaks just seems jarring – though again this has more to do with the material than this production. Despite this, the Ancestors look great and are clearly enjoying their roles with undead gusto.
Direction by Stephen Pike is appropriately kooky for the most part but there are a few continuity issues (for instance the door “creaks” inconsistently) and some scenes, including the finale, suffer from being too static. Thematically, some pantomime elements were better achieved than others though this will develop with audience experience.
Matthew Webster’s orchestra experienced some minor tuning issues from the strings and brass but this is also certain to improve as the show settles. Webster is well in control of the score’s surprisingly tricky entrances and timing and is clearly a fast rising MD talent.
The production design also has more hits than misses. The static set by Brian Sudding is evocative of the mansion and graveyard however the trucked-on pieces, such as the gates, were most effective and unfortunately underutilised. Costumes by Christine Pawlicki were well (wait for it…) executed, and achieved the greyscale aesthetic with the curious exception of Grandma’s costume.
The lighting design by Hamish McConchie was complementary to the on-stage action but perhaps missed an opportunity to evoke the the Addams’ monochromatic TV palette by reserving use of colour to moments that mattered. Some downstage scenes were also a touch dark when solely reliant on uplight.
Sound-wise the balance was excellent and there were no discernible dropped cues or mic problems, which is unusual for an opening night.
Overall, this production highlights the inherent difficulty of show choice for amateur companies where more often than not the “bums on seats” factor wins over substance.
That said, the success of a production should always be considered on the sum of its parts and in particular on what the company can control. On that measure the Q has presented a production that audiences will enjoy despite its empirical challenges and for that they deserve snaps.