By Mark Dreisonstok
It looks like an antique yet aristocratic room as the husband reclines on a chaise lounge and his loving and beautiful wife is by his side as the children play on the floor. A picture of the tranquil American family ideal. Only one thing is different: a bodiless hand is changing the records on the phonograph. This and other vintage “New Yorker “cartoons by Charles Addams featuring an upper class, eccentric, and ghoulish family gave birth to the Addams Family, which is now much more widely known through television and films.
The version now staged at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Fairfax is based on the 2010 Broadway musical and is a new creation; while the characters behave in familiar ways, the show does follow not a storyline drawn from the earlier films or television shows. Rather, the show centers around Wednesday Addams, who now has a serious boyfriend and now wishes to introduce the families to each other. Naturally, the boyfriend comes from a traditional midwestern household which is vastly at odds with the eccentric Addams’ family members… not to mention the Addams “Ancestors” whom the living members of the family sometimes call forth from the family crypt! Although young Wednesday Addams makes great efforts to try to appear conventional, humorous chaos erupts when the two families finally meet.
While Uncle Fester, played here by Chris Dockins, is often a bit of a side character in Addams Family shows, here he acts as a sort of host for this musical offering. Mr. Dockins portrays Uncle Fester in the same likeness as one would see in the Addams Family movies, engaging deeply in his role, theatrically using the Grim Reaper’s scythe as a cane. It is delightfully campy Halloween fare! Yet there are romantic elements as well, with Fester smitten with the moon. Mr. Dockins sings his love song “The Moon and Me” beautifully.
The debonaire Gomez is well-acted by Dr. Gregory LaNave, who is an academic by day. Dr. LaNave sings in “Two Things” and “Wednesday’s Growing Up.” A similarly well-voiced Wednesday (Maggie Lees) is heard in “Pulled.” Morticia Addams is portrayed excellently by Christine Maxted. As Morticia, she wonderfully belts out the delightfully macabre and jaunty “Death is Just Around the Corner.” Son Pugsley Addams was played by Cecilia Laird in the humorous solo “What If?” Even the butler Lurch (Jesper Sullivan den Bergh) lurches into the act, singing “Move Toward The Darkness” with a sonorous bass-baritone voice.
The show’s music touches different tastes in music. The numbers “When You’re an Addams” and “Tango de Amor” have a Latin flavor, with an elaborate tango dance performed between Gomez and Morticia. “The Moon and Me,” on the other hand, is more classically oriented, using a clever sampling from Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” nestled within the closing of the song. The famous TV show’s theme song, of course, makes an appearance as well, with the audience enthusiastically finger-snapping along.
These numbers show the prowess of the orchestra of twelve band members and one conductor, appropriately making an unlucky thirteen. The Addams Family would be proud! As for the orchestra, it is brilliantly conducted by Colin Taylor.
Staging and costuming are both quite creative. Particularly noteworthy is choreographer Carol Jean Clark’s creative use of classical Japanese-style umbrellas as moons (and stars) in order to create a nocturne ambiance. The set, designed by Bob Hall, is simple but effective; it includes elements drawn from the original Addams Family New Yorker cartoons—a nice touch! The Addams Family members themselves are attired to maintain their classic look but incorporate occasional modern elements which serve to suggest the events taking place on stage occur in our own time period. However, deceased Addams Family members sport Gothic, Rococo, and even flapper costumes, effectively signifying earlier generations which have passed on; these costumes are executed brilliantly by designer Ingrid Sánchez-Seymour.
The Addams Family is, at the end of the day, about family, a topic celebrated in the humorously misleading song title by the company called “Move Toward the Darkness.” We would note here that Christine Maxted, who plays Morticia Addams, is in real life the mother of Cecilia Laird (Pugsley Addams) and wife of James Maxted (Mal Beineke). We should mention at this juncture (as we are always on the watch for Falls Church connections) that Katie Pisocky, who portrays the Amazonian Addams Ancestor, is a resident of Falls Church and Megan Fisher, who plays the Flapper Addams Ancestor, sings in the choir at The Falls Church.
The show (especially in this excellent production by Steve McBride) has something for everyone, with its engaging themes, tributes to spirited dances such as Ray Anthony’s Bunny Hop and Chubby Checker’s Twist as well as ubiquitous Broadway elements. This production is wonderful entertainment for those in search of a Halloween-themed show for late October. Says Nancy Lavallee, the director: We chose ‘The Addams Family’ not just because of its hilarious book and great songs, but because of the theme that ‘family is everything,’ a timely and important message for a church-based theatre group! This wonderfully entertaining show runs from October 21-October 30th, 2022, at Good Shepherd Players, located at 9350 Braddock Road, Burke, Virginia 22015. Further information may be found online at: Good Shepherd Players – The Church of the Good Shepherd (good-shepherd.net)