The Addams Family have moved for a short while from their mansion in New York’s Central Park to the Festival Theatre stage in Edinburgh and brought with them a family crisis…Wednesday Addams (Carrie Hope Fletcher), daughter (and eldest child) of Gomez Addams (Cameron Blakely) and Morticia Addams (Samantha Womack) has fallen in love with a “normal” boy–Lucas Beineke (Oliver Ormson) from a normal, stereotypical American Family...can normality in the Addams Family ever be the same again, and will the family ancestors ever be allowed back into their crypt?
I have to admit having a big liking for The Addams Family, and if the packed out theatre is anything to measure things by, so do lots of other people. My memories of the Addams Family go back to watching the original television show in black and white. These 30 minute episodes created by David Levy and starring Carolyn Jones as Morticia and John Astin as Gomez will always for me be “The Addams Family”, but many younger members of the audience will probably be identifying more with the two very successful Hollywood films from the 1990s starring Raúl Juliá as Gomez, and Angelica Houston as Morticia. What both television and film series of course have in common is their source material - The Addams Family newspaper cartoons, a series of single frame cartoons by Charles Addams in "The New Yorker" magazine that started publication in those pages in 1938, and that were intended as a satire on the typical "American Family". There is of course that iconic theme tune from the television series (and films). All great theme tunes have to be recognised in the first few bars of the music and it does not even take that long to recognise the music by Vic Mizzy, and as soon as that finger snapping starts on stage here and the audience immediately joins in, this stage production is well and truly on safe ground. There are few shows where the connection with the audience is so immediate.
The Addams Family is a musical comedy with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and was first perfomed in 2009. In style, it takes us back more to the original cartoon source material than either the TV show or the films, but is unique enough in its own right to have not just survived the difficult adaptation from one format to another, but to have created something that retains the core feeling of the original whilst giving new life and direction to it.
As the title “musical comedy” indicates, this production is filled with songs, dances and humour, but at its heart this story is a love story and Gomez is one of the world’s great romantic lovers at heart. Here Gomez is torn between a secret confided to him by a daughter he dearly loves and keeping that secret (even for a little while) from his wife whom he simply loves and adores. Underneath all the Addams Family humour and visuals, there is a real human story here of a father coming to terms with the fact that his daughter has grown up and that he is no longer the main man in her life, and an at times emotional performance by Cameron Blakely gets this father and daughter relationship pretty much right, and the song “Wednesday’s Growing Up” just says in words what Gomez is thinking.
So much of the dynamics of this show have to revolve around the relationship with Gomez and Morticia – it is one of the great love stories of all time (well at least to both of them), and Samantha Womack and Cameron Blakely pretty much get this one right for me. Samantha captures that aloofness and everyday world detachment that we expect from Morticia so well (and that is so easy to get wrong), and Cameron is so over the top in his affections to Morticia. All the moves are there between the two of them, but at times there is just not that spark of that great love affair…these two absolutely adore one another, or they should. I think part of this though is maybe because the very format of a musical and the length of the show does not allow for the very tactile relationship that both have in the original television series…Morticia also has to be able to walk in this dress, and take those tiny footsteps of the original show.
For many people, Uncle Fester is the star of the show, and Les Dennis has a great part to play in this production as he is the “cupid” behind making sure that Wednesday and Lucas get their dreams coming true and is behind the scenes all the way making sure that true love triumphs. Les Dennis as Uncle Fester is pretty much everywhere in this show and is outstanding in the role as he brings the comedy timing and pathos needed for this character to life. Uncle Fester was never my favourite character from this family though, that was always Wednesday. Somehow that very dark psyche of Wednesday and her at times dangerous look and odd smile seemed such a contrast to what everyone expected a young girl to be like, and Carrie Hope Fletcher manages to capture all of that here while at the same time providing amazing vocals on her songs.
All of our other family members Grandma (Valda Aviks), Pugsley (Grant McIntyre) and Lurch (Dickon Gough) are so well cast in their roles, and together they just round off what we all expect the family to be like.
Some of the most interesting roles though are given not to the Addams Family, but to The Beineke family, and the re-discovery of the people that they once were when they met all those years ago is nicely played by Charlotte Page (Alice Beineke) and Dale Rapley (Mal Beineke). Charlotte gets one of the best parts in this show with her revelations after dinner at the traditional family “Game”.
This is one show where everything falls into place. The music and songs are great (even if some seem very familiar in parts), and the musical dance routine numbers are well choreographed and fit well into the story (in some shows they can be out of place). Our cast are all on top form, and most important of all the audience are loving the show from start to finish. A big part of that success has to go to our non-stage performance creatives too. The stage set and lighting are very good here, recreating what we all imagine the inside of the Addams Family mansion to be like, and designer Diego Pitarch and lighting designer Ben Cracknell have done a fantastic visual job here. It would have been a nice touch to have had Morticia sitting in that classic chair that I remember so well from the television series, but little details like the changing figures in the painting on the wall and the spider’s web parquet pattern on the floor made up for that oversight.
The Addams Family the Musical is a great show with a hugely talented cast …simply a great night out at the theatre. Yes, there are at times the feeling that you are falling into “The Rocky Horror Show” territory – particularly as Mal and Alice Beineke are so close to Brad and Janet, but that is not a bad thing for me, and with just a few tweaks here and there, this show could so easily be the great audience participation show to rival “The Rocky Horror Show”. Judging from many members of the audience tonight, it is heading down that road already. Try not to miss this one, it’s just so much fun.
Review by Tom King