In the mid-60’s, there were two television shows about creepy families. They each ran from 1964-’66. And every group of friends had their battles over which one to watch. Some liked the over-the-top “Munsters”, who were decidedly not normal, but tried hard to fit in. Almost everyone else favored the subtle darkness of “The Addams Family,” a group of oddball kooks who reveled in their different-ness. Seldom was there a television addict who watched both shows, that did not cherish one more than the other. I thought the premise for each was ridiculous and, instead, gave my heart to the ultra-realistic Star Trek. But I do remember seeing both these shows and only loving Fred Gwinn’s Herman Munster.
As we move forward, someone got the great idea to make one of these classics, “The Addams Family into a musical. “Bad idea!” I say. “Not going to make it as a song fest about people who foster misery and mayhem. I can’t see Uncle Fester and Grandmama dancing and singing their way through skinning cats for dinner. I could see love songs between the romantic mother and father, Gomez, and Morticia, but what kind of side plots can they possibly drag into this?”
This past evening, I took a trip to Van Wert to see the Civic Theatre’s production of this venture. I quickly saw how easily the writers caught our interest and kept it, through two and half hours of musical theatre. The plot revolves around the family’s daughter Wednesday, who has found a “normal” young man to love, and has secretly become engaged. She wants this boy’s parents and hers to meet. This is sure to be an ill-conceived plan, as Wednesday’s family is a very odd lot, while Lucas’ family are… from Ohio. The trouble begins when Wednesday tells her father of her betrothal, and begs him not to tell Morticia, a woman Gomez has sworn never to lie to, or withhold anything from. And it all goes downhill from there.
The production was directed by Jerry Zimmerman, and every moment of the action revealed his hand, from the details of the blocking, to the costumes, set pieces and props, the masterful and cute choreography. No, Zimmerman did not make the costumes or the sets, but his productions always trumpet his attention to detail. The whole evening seemed more like a middle-of-the-run performance, and not an opening night wandering. Even when the main curtain went haywire and would not either open or close, the show moved on, with the actress playing Wednesday, Emily Klir, moving her solo, out front. It saved the number, and allowed time for the back stage crew to manhandle the curtain. It was something that does not happen often, even in community theatre, but professionalism was displayed by all, in getting the audience re-focused.
The two main characters, Gomez and Morticia were perfectly played, according to what we remember from the t.v. show. Morticia, pouty, slinky, sexy and a bit self-absorbed was like a dream as delivered by theatre veteran, Nancy Shuffle. Nancy makes every part she plays, her own, but this one suited her even more than most. She glided, she flitted, and she by-god sang! I should not be amazed to realize how well Ms. Shuffle sings. I have heard her many times and I am always impressed. But tonight, her low range early-on was delightful, and we got to hear her upper voice, later, a true vindication of my memory, surely.
Drew Kantonen, Gomez, was every bit the smooth Latin lover. He sang some difficult numbers giving us some great mugging for comedic effect. His timing on the humorous lines was impeccable, and he even danced, something I was looking forward to with some malice. Kantonen is a fine actor, having played many large roles, brought a wary nervousness to a character “trapped” between love for his wife and devotion to his only daughter. The two leads, Kantonen and Shuffle played off each other quite naturally, making us feel for each.
There were some other strong performances, almost too many to document here. I must begin with Christopher Butturff, who shaved his head to play the portly bald brother of Gomez, Fester. Butturff had the mannerisms down, and really kicked his musical numbers in the rear. He was a joy to watch and hear.
The gentleman playing Lurch, is Nancy Shuffle’s husband, John. This performer is incredibly multitalented, so I expected great things from him. I was disappointed with his role at first, that of a non-syllabic grunter with no real lines. I knew he would be playing the violin later, and could not wait. It was worth the wait, as his skill shocked and pleased the crowd. It the end, though, his fabulous voice was allowed to appear, and I was satisfied for him. All in all he was a monster of a Lurch.
The two lovers, Quintin Bouillon, as Lucas, and Emily Klir s Wednesday, were ideal. Klir carried the angst-laden dark princess to a terrific level, both in her singing, and her acting. She was a true rebel at all times. Bouillon embodied the Casper Milquetoast that is Lucas, giving him a backbone, near the end. Unlike Klir, Bouillon did not have much solo work, but he held his own when they sang together.
Powerful performers, Debbie Briggs and Dan Basinger lit up the stage, in their roles as Lucas’ parents, Mal and Alice. Debbie, doesn’t consider acting her best thing, perhaps because she has an incredible voice. But she does a great job showing us a woman who makes a fortuitous transformation. We get it, because Briggs knows how to bring it. Basinger doesn’t know how to short-shrift a role. He puts all of himself into everything he does. He is a big man, with bigger acting skills, and huge vocal chops. He and Briggs showed us the juxtaposition between the two families, as well as delineating their shared family values. Their song, about whom is crazier than whom, a cross stage quartet with Klir and Bouillon was so powerful that those of us stage-right had a little trouble hearing the two youngsters, stage-left. But it was a tender moment. There were a few that had me a little misty-eyed.
Grandmama, Kristin Lee, and Pugsley, Ricky Lee are actually mother and son. Kristin is a hoot in everything she does, and had some of the funniest lines. She laid them on us with tremendous sass. Ricky, already a veteran performer at his tender age, gave us a lot of vulnerability with Pugsley, and did a very nice job with his musical numbers.
Great performances abounded. Of course, one big kudo goes to the chorus, a group of ghosts affectionately called “The Ancestors” It was their job to provide background for the story and some bigger dance and song routines. They accomplished all of this with grace and energy. I thought the addition of this group would be off-putting, but not so. I enjoyed everything they did.
I did feel like the pit orchestra got off to a slow start, as the overture did not begin particularly well. But music director, Dee Fisher never fails at this thing, and soon the group was blended into the action so well, that I barely noticed them the rest of the way. That’s actually a good thing, folks.
Okay, so I loved the show, the idea, the script, the score, the characters and all that it contained. It was an extremely entertaining evening with actors I knew, and those I didn’t. I would have to give an unrestrained thumbs up to this group of musical thespians. This is a show not to be missed. Well done, musicians, cast and crew!
UPCOMING SCHEDULED PERFORMANCES INCLUDE SEPTEMBER 29 & 30 and OCTOBER 1 & 2, 2016! CALL THE VAN WERT CIVIC THEATRE TO RESERVE YOUR SEAT!!