Thursday, May 15, 2014

The musical Addams Family actually seems to prefer happiness, and that is likely to transfer to Broadway in Indianapolis audiences this week

The fun that Charles Addams had with the creepy, untoward and unsettling aspects of life has permanent appeal, going far beyond the pages of the upper-middlebrow New Yorker magazine. His enduring legacy is challenged by the perception that everything's getting worse, suffering and pain being a major generator of everyday news.

So a stage musical about the cartoonist's iconic family, comfortable in a miserably appointed, decaying Gothic mansion, requires embracing fun and other positive values to build on the proven marketability of Addams' creations. Predictably, love conquers all in "The Addams Family," which runs through Sunday as a Broadway in Indianapolis presentation at Clowes Hall.

Addams (1912-1988) still rules our hearts because we are somehow comfortable with these people. It may be a weird family, but it certainly isn't dysfunctional. The conflicts that require extensive repair in the second act center on failure to share information, breaches of trust, sibling separation anxiety, and alliances with outsiders — a laundry list of family kerfuffles everywhere.

With a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (of "Jersey Boys" fame) and songs by Andrew Lippa, "The Addams Family" is a buoyant production. It's a celebration of life, if not in the way Morticia, the lady of the house, usually means it. In one of Addams' drawings, she looks out at a gloomy, storm-battered landscape and exults that it's the sort of day that makes you glad to be alive.
The game of "Full Disclosure" moves into high gear to end the first act.

If there was ever an age of innocence in the macabre field, it was during Addams' nearly six decades of productivity. He made his mark before the arms race among haunted houses and the gory heyday of Hollywood horror films. He flourished during the world's most violent century (until this one); in 1971, at the height of his fame, he was the victim of an unprovoked acid attack by some New York City hookers.

But he always appealed to our sense of mischief rather than stoking the fires of true evil: The children known popularly as Wednesday and Pugsley still believe in Santa Claus, Morticia notes approvingly (in another cartoon), as she watches them augment a roaring blaze in the home fireplace on Christmas Eve.

As seen Wednesday evening, the show moved along smoothly, with performances set in a visually astonishing context — no more so than in Uncle Fester's second-act love song to the moon, with its illusion of floating in a lunar pas de deux amid a host of singing five-pointed stars. The amplification was intense, following the contemporary norm, which sometimes obscured the words of such clever  songs as Gomez's "Trapped" and Wednesday's "Pulled." Some of the lower-key songs — such as the normally flamboyant Gomez's pair in the second act and Pugsley's "What If" in the first — thus seemed a relief, easier to take in with their modest pizazz quotient.

Technically, there were a couple of misfires. The tasseled curtain knot that Gomez strikes off with a sword detached itself between blows, and the lightning he dares to strike him if he is not candid with Morticia was an unimpressive thunderclap.

The Ancestors (here flanking Fester) boost the spookiness.

The ensemble that pours forth from the family crypt near the start portrays ashen ancestors from caveman to doughboy across various eras. The company is delightfully employed to enhance many of the musical numbers.  The first-act finale, "Full Disclosure," featured the ancestors as full-spirited attendants, and the women among them dressed up a couple of showcases for Morticia, played with formidable, eerie charm by Keleen Snowgren.  Jesse Sharp caught the combination of bravado and vulnerability that makes her husband Gomez so entertaining.
Brother and sister bond through torturous play.

Jennifer Fogarty and Connor Barth were ceaselessly engaging as the children. Amanda Bruton had the comic witch persona down pat as Grandma, and the rare stereotype of a eunuch-like uncle with unconventional romantic designs was adorably embodied in Shaun Rice's Uncle Fester.

Dinner guests the Beineke family have the social task of getting used to the Addamses, though Wednesday's ardent suitor Lucas makes the most of his head start. In another instance of the fashionable entertainment message that we can learn a lot from weird people, all three have their inner free spirits released by the end. Blair Anderson and Mark Poppleton as the parents and Bryan Welnicki as Lucas showed the transformation creditably.

Lurch, based on Addams' Frankenstein-monster knockoff, moved and moaned with practiced awkwardness until the astonishing finale, when Ryan Jacob Wood led the company in the improbably uplifting "Move Toward the Darkness."

It's the perfect set-up for the show's last line, shrewdly quoted from one of Addams' most famous early drawings of the beloved couple. He: "Are you unhappy, darling?" She: Oh, yes, yes! Completely."

With all due respect to Gomez and Morticia, audiences at "The Addams Family" will beg to disagree.

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