SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (WFRV)
Shows by Sheboygan Theatre Company tend to be the equivalent of IMAX – huge movie screen images – only with live actors and musicians.
The current production of “The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy” also at times takes the action all around the audience.
The place and immersive experience make this production a rarity with an aura of wide-open space.
Plus, the story is fun and, in the second act, loverly.
Now, the fun is macabre, which was the point of Charles Addams, the creator of what essentially is a genre of whistling-past-the-graveyard humor.
The joke is what is black to the rest of the world is white with the Addams family. When mom Addams, Morticia, sings warmly that “Death is just around the corner,” she adds for one verse, “coroner… get it?” That’s an Addams Family knee-slapper.
The happily ghoulish ways of the family go a-tumble when the daughter, Wednesday, falls in love and becomes engaged to an “other” person, Lucas Beineke. The Addamses are normal – to them – and the rest of the world is “other.” Wednesday’s wish is that Lucas’s square family meets hers over dinner so the two get to know and accept each other, and then she announces the engagement. Wednesday doesn’t want her mother to know about the “other” stuff, for fear of rejection, and makes her father, Gomez, promise not to tell. Gomez has never lied to his desired, adored, desired, beloved, desired, admired and desired (he’s got it bad) Morticia. He is caught between a gravestone and a hard place.
This is a quirky musical to say the least, and the players leap into their offbeat roles, with guest director Anthony Bruno setting them up well for the many comical tidbits and splashes of movement. An ensemble of dead Addamses sometimes sweeps in to spice a song with spirited dance. The exclamation point for the love theme is an elaborate tango by Gomez and Morticia that has been rehearsed and practiced and rehearsed and practiced more to succeed.
Larry Marcus performs with the sureness of experience as the family’s pillar, Gomez. The story is essentially Gomez’s, and the other players follow on Marcus’s strength. Scoring are Lindsay Rick in voice as Morticia, Dan Hennell in character as moon-struck Uncle Fester and Ava Childs in the insistence of youth as Wednesday, with Nico Torres in the masochism of brother Pugsley setting off the huge scene that ends Act I with Michelle Bestful as mother Beinke going around the bend and over the river and through the woods with a truth potion that unleashes her repressed hormones.
Some pros and cons about the production, mostly pros:
+ The sound system in the space is what it is – a creator of a hollow effect, as if songs are sung into a barrel. That takes getting used to.
+ The set is sweeping. It is a cemetery. The foreground includes gravestones with scattered leaves below and tree limbs with spidery webs above; it is the half-circle section of the space. In the background are a metal-like gate and the entry for a tomb (past Addamses); it is the proscenium part of the space. In the way back, above the proscenium stage, is the area for musical director Paul Sucherman and the orchestra, which nicely fills out the score that sometimes has off-the-beaten-track pacing, as for Wednesday’s songs.
+ At times, the Addams Family Ancestors (everybody in white as individual characters; not everybody always in tune) and lead players appear along a rear aisle and the feeder steps to the stage to wholly involve the space. Uncle Fester’s song, “The Moon and Me,” is excellently presented as he sings to the array of leads set in individual spotlights on the steps.
+ The look of the show gets extra oomph from Uncle Fester’s tent/robe and bald pate and the various costume characterizations for the Ancestors, from a gladiator to a bride to a ballerina (whose backstories are sad if you think about them, though leavened by their being okay with where they are).
+ The printed program is expanded a bit, including cast bios.
+ The lobby outside Leslie W. Johnson Theatre in Horace Mann Middle School includes bit of dramaturgy – a kiosk with background on the various forms of the Addams Family story, from drawings of Charles Addams to the screen to the stage.
+ The lobby includes displays related to the production – seats for picture-taking in Addamsy/Halloweeny settings.
Overall, the experience of this production is one of an agreeable fullness. A whole lot of people did a whole lot of work putting together a whole lot of everything to tell a story about the importance of love and family, with all kinds of graveyard humor.
Creative: Based on characters created by Charles Addams: book – Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice; music and lyrics – Andrew Lippa; director and choreographer – Anthony Bruno; music director – Paul Sucherman; set designer – Nan Gibson; costume designers – Beth Wynveen, Jamie Wynveen; lighting designer – Pat Smith; sound designer – Matt Brulla; production stage manager – Shari Roehl; dance captain – Frida McKeown; hair/make-up designer – Anthony Bruno; hair/make-up co-designers – Cathy Perronne, Ariel Ludlum; production manager – Jackie Blindauer; executive director – Jackie Erdman
Fester Addams – Daniel Hennell
Gomez Addams – Larry Marcus
Morticia Addams – Lindsay Rick
Wednesday Addams – Ava Childs
Pugsley Addams – Nico Torres
Grandma Addams – Danielle Lienau
Lurch Addams – Rick Hoffman
Lucas Beineke – Isaiah Garcia
Mal Beineke – Brad Leonhardt
Alice Beineke – Michelle Bestul
Addams Family Ancestors – Brady Baker, Ben Johnson, Charlize Kuznack, Frida McKeown, Elizabeth Plotka-Heinen, Lukas Reschke, Bella Rudell, Corrine M. Schultz, Nicole Thayer, Timmy Wiverstad
Orchestra: Music director/keyboard I – Paul Sucherman; keyboard II – Michael Schnell; reed I – Richard Tengowski; reed II – Paula Harde; trumpet – Chris Woller; trombone – Keaton Galezio, Ian Zempe; violin – Lilly Montes, Hannah Shvartsman; cello – Anna Manci; bass – Paige Klein; guitar – Colin O’Dwanny; drums – Greg Tengowski, Robert Milanowski
Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10, 11, 12
“When You’re an Addams” – Addams Family, Ancestors
“Fester’s Manifesto” – Uncle Fester
“Two Things” – Gomez
“Wednesday’s Growing Up” – Gomez
“Trapped” – Gomez
“Honor Roll” – Pugsley
“Pulled” – Wednesday, Pugsley
“Four Things” – Gomez
“One Normal Night” – Company
“But Love” – Uncle Fester, Ancestors
“Secrets” – Morticia, Alice, Female Ancestors
“Gomez’s ‘What If?’” – Gomez
“What If?” – Pugsley
“Full Disclosure – Part 1” – Addamses, Beinekes, Ancestors
“Waiting” – Alice, Ancestors
“Full Disclosure – Part 2” – Addamses, Beinekes, Ancestors
“Just Around the Corner” – Morticia, Ancestors
“Just Around the Corner” Playoff – Morticia, Ancestors
“The Moon and Me” – Uncle Fester, Female Ancestors
“Happy/Sad” – Gomez
“Crazier Than You” – Wednesday, Lucas, Alice, Mal
“Not Today” – Gomez
“Live Before We Die” – Gomez, Morticia
(Dance) “Tango de Amor” – Gomez, Morticia
“Move Toward the Darkness” – Addamses, Beinekes, Ancestors
NEXT: “It’s a Wonderful Life” adapted for the stage by James W. Rodgers, Dec. 6-8, 11-14.
THE VENUE: The 870-seat Leslie W. Johnson Theatre in Horace Mann Middle School is a one-of-a-kind theater space for Northeastern Wisconsin. Its layout creates special demands that can lead to rewards in unique theatergoing. The spacious facility is in the shape of an amphitheater with steep stairways. The seats are red. The ceiling is high. The front row of seats is on the performance level, which is a half-circle. A proscenium (flat front) stage area extends across the rear line of the half circle. The school was built in 1970. The aura of the lobby and theater combined is that of a community gathering place.
THE PEOPLE: Leslie W. Johnson was a Sheboygan superintendent of schools. Horace Mann (1796-1859) was a leader in the development of public education in the United States, including the teaching of teachers.