At the Woodlawn last Friday night, the curtains parted to reveal a fog-shrouded graveyard set populated by iridescent ghosts and the members of the titular family, all splendidly looking like they just stepped out of a Charles Addams New Yorker panel. After delivering a rousing introductory number, “When You’re An Addams,” the Addams Family musical settled into the story proper.
And there’s the problem — the story itself. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book takes a typical scenario from the original television series as its starting point — a normal family pays a visit to the Addams manse and comes face-to-face with the bizarre clan — but then undermines the potential weirdness with a routine plot about marital discord.
The cast of ‘The Addams Family’ at the Woodlawn Theatre. Photo by sRagnar Fotografi.
Right out of the gate, the writers transform the wonderfully strange and morbid character of Wednesday into a lovestruck ingenue who’s fallen for Lucas Bieneke, a wholesome midwestern boy. She’s invited his family over for dinner and pleads with her own folks to —gasp! — behave normally.
When the Bienekes arrive, it all becomes reminiscent of a somewhat ghoulish musical version of You Can’t Take It With You, with a heavy dose of couples therapy thrown in. The score is also hit-and-miss — among composer Andrew Lippa’s 20-plus songs, only a few echo the appropriately funereal mood.
Fortunately, the Woodlawn’s production is so well-mounted that it provides joys that transcend the weaknesses of the book and score.
First off, the actors inhabit their characters with style. Michael J. Gonzalez and Melissa Gonzalez are a perfect Gomez and Morticia. Conley Wehner also impresses as Wednesday, and she wisely makes the most of the subversive lines she’s given. Nicholas Barron is terrific as the dysfunctional Pugsley, and his singing voice gives the adult performers a run for their money. Rita Duggan and Jeremy Sarten are also ideal as the cackling Grandma and the rigor mortised Lurch. Benjamin Scharff is a hoot as the pale-faced Uncle Fester, serving as the narrator and indeed the heart of the show. Joshua Goldberg, Sara Brookes and Trevor Chauvin are fine as the “normal” Beinekes, with Brookes getting the most fun with a character that evolves from prim to nasty during the course of the proceedings.
Second, Kurt Wehner’s set looks just fantastic; it’s one of the most elaborate I’ve seen at the Woodlawn, and it’s beautifully lit by Chris Muenchow. Rose Kennedy and Laura Briseno’s costumes are just right, as are Greg Hinojosa’s hair and make-up.
Finally, the excellent eight-piece band, under the direction of Josh Pepper, sounds much bigger, and the choreography by Christopher Rodriguez is superb. Rick Sanchez’s direction is also fine, which makes it all the more frustrating that the content isn’t more fun.
That said, there are some macabre moments to be savored. For instance, when Mrs. Beineke asks if they have a little girls’ room, Gomez responds, “We used to…but we let them all go.” And a few of the songs work well. In the second act, having decided to leave Gomez, Morticia cheers up by reminding herself that death is “Just Around the Corner,” accompanied by a high-kicking chorus line, including a scythe-wielding Grim Reaper. Fester, who’s decided he’s fallen in love with the moon, tenderly sings “Me and the Moon” while appearing to float all around the darkened stage.
And as Wednesday sings “Pulled,” lamenting her dismay over being trapped between family loyalty and a normal life, she has Pugsley chained to the wall of a dungeon and yanks a lever in time with the chorus to administer an electric shock, making him scream in agony and then beg for her to do it again. That’s the Addams Family we love, and that’s what the show needs more of.
The Addams Family plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg Road, San Antonio, until March 15th. Reservations can be made online or by calling (210) 267-8388.