How fitting to share an evening with the kooky, creepy and lovable Addams Family on one of their cherished holidays, Friday the 13th. The night was as cold as a tomb but Toby’s Dinner Theatre was warmed by the passion shared by Mr. and Mrs. Addams, Gomez and Morticia. Their hot-blooded romance – and how it is put to the test – is literally center stage in the knockout staging of The Addams Family, fun for the entire family: living, dead and undecided.
Filled with their well known dark humor and twisted family values, this Addams family sings as good or better than many TV-to-film-to-Broadway adaptations that litter the stage of late. The Toby’s cast not only nails the gallows humor and maliciously maligned characters but they exude enough warmth to charm the burial shroud off your back.
We find our kooky clan ensconced in their cobwebby mansion somewhere in the midst of Central Park where they have lived for centuries. Surrounded by portraits of their long-dead ancestors, the Addams family members gather to celebrate their tainted togetherness on a spooky night among the tombstones of their dearly departed. Luckily, dead is just a tomb call away for them.
Leading the clammy clan is the winning Lawrence Munsey as patriarch Gomez, equal parts Latin lover and Borscht belt comic, with a giant, baritone voice that sends over Lippa’s tunes like crazy. As comely bride and the mother of his children, Morticia’s form-fitting, vampiric wardrobe and icy demeanor fit Priscilla Cuellar like a glove. Might I add a very tight glove with physics defying cleavage that is (as Gomez describes it) “cut down to Venezuela.” Cuellar matches Munsey note for note, possessing a big-bang belter of a voice that could wake the dead. (But only in a good way.)
As parents, Gomez and Morticia face what might be the bleakest horror any father and mother must face in this cruel world: their teenaged daughter bringing home the wrong boy! And he is from Ohio, “a swing state” bellows Gomez. Daughter Wednesday (as in “Wednesday’s child is full of woe”), played with dour pluck by MaryKate Brouillet, has fallen in love with a teenage boy who is about as normal as they come. Lucas Beineke – the earnestly, eager A.J. Whittenberger – and Wednesday plan to have their parents meet. Meanwhile, Wednesday knows how demanding Morticia can be so she confides in papa Gomez who is immediately torn between his blind devotion to his sexy wife and his parental affection for his daughter.
When we meet Mr. and Mrs. Beineke, they could have walked out of any other sit-com from the same era as the original Addams Family series. Bespectacled American dad Mal (Darren McDonnell) and the rhyme-loving, June Cleaver-clone Alice – played with a touch of psychotic glee by Elizabeth Rayca – are as tough on Lucas and Gomez and Morticia are on Wednesday. The family conflict – and juxtaposition of the two wildly different family units – sets up the central thrust of the musical’s book and works to move things along to the inevitable happy ending.
And lest we forget the rest of the Addams mansion dwellers, each one played with a demonic daffiness that may actually elevate the predictable material. Gavin Willard (alternating with Jace Franco) has an explosive good time as Wednesday’s little brother Pugsley, whom she relishes torturing – until she has a boyfriend. David James puts on the warts and shawl of decrepit Grandma. There is even a question as to Grandma’s real identity, one of the show’s biggest laughs. Here and elsewhere, throughout the book, the jokes are easy to spot, but the cast has such a crackerjack time of delivering them, its best just to give in.
As the electric light bulb sucking and baldpated Uncle Fester, Shawn Kettering strikes an unusually lithe song and dance man who sings about love. Fester may be the most conventional of all the Addams clan, except for his romance with the moon, which leads to one of the show’s most memorable musical numbers, “The Moon and Me,” complete with singing stars.
Filling the formidable, elevator shoes of one of the show’s scene-stealing characters, David Bosley-Reynolds is the Addams’ nearly silent and wholly sardonic butler, Lurch. Bosley-Reynolds looks to have escaped from an Ed Woods sci-fi stinker movie from circa 1955 and the look is dead on (pun intended.) To see Lurch rush to answer the doorbell is to witness a comic genius at work.
The ensemble takes on the roles of family ancestors who slip out of their tombs and cannot return until true love triumphs. In the meantime, they are the hardest-working corpses this side of The Walking Dead. Singing, dancing, moving scenery and – since Toby’s is a dinner theatre – bussing tables are all in a night’s work for these quadruple threats.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY
Feb 6 – April 19
Toby’s Dinner Theatre
5900 Symphony Woods Road
Columbia, MD 21044
running time for the show which follows dinner:
2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 desert break
Tickets: $53 – $58
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Tickets or call 301-596-6161
Director Mark Minnick has a keen eye for pointing up the macabre musical moments and keeps the entire show running like one of Gomez’s model trains. Minnick uses the in the round setting at Toby’s, with the aid of the clever scenic design by David A. Hopkins, to move swiftly from scene to scene. Special mention must go out to Amy Kaplan for the myriad of props that hearken back to the classic TV show, and even includes a special appearance by the Addams’ handy house help, Thing. Another special mention is due Lawrence “Larry” Munsey who not only kills as Gomez but oversaw the costumes for the show.
Go to The Addams Family with your family, especially if you expect the campy template of the 60s TV show and the 90s films. Borrowing from Vic Mizzy’s unforgettable TV theme song, get your witches shawl on and a broomstick you can crawl on and whizz to see The Addams Family. Snap, snap.
The Addams Family . Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice . Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa . Director and Choreographer Mark Minnick . Featuring Lawrence B. Munsey, Priscilla Cuellar, Shawn Kettering, David James, MaryKate Brouillet, Jace Franco, Gavin Willard, David Bosley-Reynolds, Darren McDonnell, Elizabeth Rayca, A.J. Whittenberger . Musical Director: Ross Rawlings . Set Design: David A. Hopkins . Sound Design: Jeff Schabdach . Lighting Design: Coleen M. Foley . Costume Coordinator: Lawrence B. Munsey . Stage Manager: Cree Menefee and Kate Wackerle . Produced by Toby’s Columbia . Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker.
Dig some Addams Family trivia
If you are of a certain age you might recall the single panel cartoons that graced the pages of the “New Yorker” from the late 1930s through the 1960s. Artist Charles Addams celebrated nonconformity in a deliciously witty and off-kilter manner highlighting the strange and unusual family. The mustachioed husband, whip-thin Vampira-like wife, creepy children, and the rest of the extended family tortured each other and reveled in their version of normalcy. Through the years, Mr. Addams depicted his Gothic family dumping hot oil on Christmas carolers and the children rolling giant rocks down on to innocent drivers.
Television put the Addams clan on the small screen in the mid-60s – and gave them one of the catchiest theme songs ever (snap, snap) – and their mysterious and ooky fame was set in stone. (The TV series is also from whence the names originate.) The family was brought back to the mainstream in 1991 when producer Scott Rudin and director Barry Sonnenfeld brought “The Addams Family” to the big screen, followed by “Addams Family Values” a few years later.
Broadway was their next resting place, and The Addams Family musical opened up the family crypt with a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. The tuner opened in April 2010 after a tryout in Chicago starring Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia. The Broadway mounting did decent business but the co-creators felt rushed getting the show ready for New York, so rewrites and revisions were worked up before the show embarked on a national tour.
Which brings us to this onstage version, now entombed at Toby’s Dinner Theatre.