Review: San Jose Stage’s ‘Addams Family’ puts the fun in dysfunctional

Morticia (Allison F. Rich) and Gomez (Johnny Moreno) enjoy a passionate pas de deux in

Morticia (Allison F. Rich) and Gomez (Johnny Moreno) enjoy a passionate pas de deux in “The Addams Family” at San Jose Stage Company through July 26th. (Photo by Dave Lepori)

There is something wholesomely charming about a family that is utterly uncharming. You have a dashing, debonair husband, a wife that is anything but, and kids that find such joy in popular children’s toys such as guillotines and bombs.

San Jose Stage Company has a penchant for musicals that carry a tinge of darkness, and “The Addams Family” certainly keeps that going. Directed smoothly in the Stage’s three-sided space by Tom Kelly, the creepy and cooky family gets the party going with warm, joyous colors that are the palette of their stage, from bright blacks to gentle goths.

The musical is based on cartoons about the macabre family created by Charles Addams. The cartoons, first published in the New Yorker magazine in 1938, spawned both a two-year television series beginning in 1964 and multiple film versions.

The musical consumes itself with the changing world of Wednesday Addams (a charming and warm Courtney Hatcher), a young woman who has found young love with a normal boy, Lucas Beineke (straight-laced Jeffrey Brian Adams). Wednesday shares her secret with her loving dad Gomez (Johnny Moreno). Yet what is troubling for Gomez is that he promises to keep her secret from his loving wife Morticia (Allison F. Rich, who also doubles as the musical director) as requested by Wednesday. This is a first for their marriage – a secret he must keep from her.

The production is benefitted greatly by the intimacy of San Jose Stage’s space. A physically imposing Lurch (Will Springhorn, Jr.) greets the audience at the door with a conversation that consists of some spirited grunting. He is accompanied by “Thing,” a hand that did a bang-up job of passing out programs. It is the first touch of a wonderful commitment to the show’s style.

There is certainly a continuation of said style through the entire production. Rich is simply magnificent in her sharpness. She cuts a mean Morticia, with a sleek black dress and a sleek, black non-smile. Her number “Just Around the Corner” is a sharp example of her dazzling skill set.

Moreno’s Gomez drives the show with a committed fluidity, featuring his Spanish accent that reeks of Latin love, and slight touches of British along the way. What Moreno does so well in his portrayal of Gomez is simply commanding the space, playing a character who is always on. Considering Broadway stalwart Nathan Lane, one of the most energy-filled actors in theatre, originated the role, zeal and panache are a necessity in any Gomez undertaking. It’s a tactic that Moreno handles with aplomb, bouncing all over the stage with magnetic joy and energy.

Hatcher’s Wednesday boasts a big voice, and she handles her arc with enjoyable and conflicted gusto. She is, after all, the key to the attempt of normalcy in her family.

Some of the most enjoyable characters in the old television show (I never bothered to watch any of the films) were Uncle Fester and Grandma, two characters who have an I-don’t-give-a-damn joy, the purveyors of rude and crude humor. Both D. Scott McQuiston and Donna Federico did some joyous scene stealing, providing plenty of crude and irreverent laughs along the way. And adding plenty of depth to the foils of the Addams were the Beineke parents, played with both milquetoast and radical energy by Elise Youssef and Edward Hightower.

The music is a mixed bag of brilliance with doses of banality, but what is strongest about the music is it incorporates various styles, with the numbers energetically choreographed by Brett Blankenship and Carmichael “CJ” Blankenship. Numbers such as “When You’re an Addams,” personally my favorite number in the show with its latin-fused rhythms, sets the tone nicely with its wit. The number “Pulled” is a gentle and passionate number featuring both Courtney and the bomb throwing, guillotine loving Pugsley (comically timed nicely by Zac Schuman). Strong ensemble numbers such as both versions of “Full Disclosure” and “Tango de Amor” are a lot of fun.

The Addams Family was never one of my favorite television shows when I would catch it in reruns years after. Yet, what this production does so well is gives the audience great access to see that this is not just a story about a weird family that is into weird things, but a normal family that wants what everyone else wants – love and acceptance. Now I don’t know if I’d be able to endorse if one of my daughters wanted to marry Pugsley, but Gomez and Morticia would sure as hell be some fun in-laws.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

San Jose Stage Company presents “The Addams Family”
By Andrew Lippa, Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman
Directed by Tom Kelly
Choreographed by Brett Blankenship and Carmichael “CJ” Blankenship
Musical Direction by Allison F. Rich
The Word: A delightful and fun night of funny and macabre theatre, stylistically unified with zeal.
Stars: 4 out of 5
Through July 26th
San Jose Stage Company
490 S. First Street
San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $20 – $65
For tickets, call (408) 283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org

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