“The Addams Family” Thrills and Delights with Some Inspired Performances at SLOC
Charles Addams could never have envisioned that his dark, macabre wordless cartoons in the thirties for The New Yorker, that most august of publications, could have inspired countless iterations-a tv show in the ‘60s, two movies, a Broadway musical which amazingly is the #1 produced musical in High Schools. Schenectady Light Opera Company is opening their 93rd season with this Andrew Lippa (music & lyrics), Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice (book) musical and it offers many pleasant surprises and giddy delights starting with Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara forcefully advocating for funding for the arts in the curtain speech. Huzzah! More of that, please.
Director James Alexander and Music Director Melissa Narusky are making their very successful debuts in their positions with this perennially popular 2010 show. It takes our favorite ghoulish family (sorry Munsters) and gives them the Broadway treatment. They receive entrance applause when they promenade downstage en famille after the finger-snapping. The story is “You Can’t Take It With You,” Wednesday is in love with a normal boy and must introduce him and his parents to her peculiar family. “We’re who we are and they’re from…Ohio.” There’s hope with the reply “Ohio is a swing state.”
There are some exceptionally strong, delightful performances which will tickle you thru the long evening starting with Kevin O’Toole’s Fester which is running on some kind of high octane. He’s got a skittering, manic, pinballing command of the stage with every entrance and vocally does some lovely work using his entire register. Completely original, captivating characterization, I’d follow him to the moon and yes, he is sexier than Mr. Clean.
Tessa Rivenberg as the troubled Wednesday works the angst and has an early musical highlight with “Pulled” as she explores her divided nature while torturing her brother Pugsly (the fresh, fun and excited Sam Radez) and yanking a bird in half. She sings the hell out of this song. Her duet with Lucas Beineke (Jon Maltz, charming and especially ingratiating trying to be cool with Pugsly) “Crazier Than You” is fun as well.
James Alexander has used the ensemble of Addams Family Ancestors to comment on action and enter scenes with a more active presence which works just fine throughout the show especially for highlighting the superior costumes (by one of the Ancestors, The Puritan-Alexa Rory DiCristofaro) and fantastic ghoulish make-up (Designed by another of the Ancestors, the Bride-Claudia Bertasso). At the close of Wednesday’s song “Pulled,” he has one of the ancestors, Keegan James Robataille as The Clown, dispatch the bird from the stage. Keegan also managed to retrieve an errant prop in this lightning fast entrance and would remain welcome company all night with his flopping physicality and “It” factor.
Alana Streifert as the prospective in-law Alice Beinecke is all prim and proper in her lemon dress until she errantly drinks a potion Pugsly stole from Grandma (the vocally exuberant, spritely and incontinent Molly Waters) and goes all Dr. Hyde on the dinner party, flapping her yellow collar like a lizard. Lamenting on her loveless marriage to Mal (buttoned down James Wilding) she lets herself go wild, werking it, humping the corner of the table “Parents dooo it!!!” Sweet transformation!
Most surprisingly is Gabriel Hage stepping out from many past ensemble roles to take on his first lead role at SLOC and having a grand time as Gomez. He grows in stature in the first act. His pinstripes and Cheshire smile grow wider, he wears his purple suit like a Prince and has more than enough oily charm to keep his hair slicked all night long. He has a hyperactive sword fight with the winning zombified Lurch of Kevin O’Brien. His “What if?” in a single overhead spot downstage (Lighting Design by Chad Reid) is effortlessly moving. When his daughter confronts her beloved late in the play “How long have you been standing in the shadows?!?” Lucas responds pityingly “My whole life.” Gomez: “Nice.” The audience roared at the master appreciating the game. I appreciate Mr. Hage’s.
James Alexander does great work inspiring his cast and goosing every laugh out of every Brickman wisecrack. Many of the ensemble are also doing great, inspired physical work. Melissa Narusky deftly handles the varied score easily traversing the pop anthems, vaudeville turns and faux Sondheim ballads. Local dance legend Johnny Martinez choreographs a wicked tango with the Ancestors and Addams parents which provides a highlight for the deadly beautiful Elizabeth Sterling as Morticia. She is wan and chilly throughout but also has a killer entrance which had the audience cheering.
SLOC is doing one of its greatest jobs in its mission by providing a forum and opportunity for those to learn and grow in the theater arts and with so many comporting themselves for the first time in new positions so terrifically, in addition to Mr. Alexander and Ms. Narusky, the lighting designer Chad Reid and Stage Manager Justine Pascual that we are assured of quality theater on Franklin Street for years to come.