This Year's Highlights: The Addams Family
Mr Smyth, from the Senior School's English department takes us back to showtime in January with his insightful & witty review.
This year’s musical offering was based on the famous Charles Addams’ cartoons about an anti-social Gothic family who have created their own Edgar Allen Poe tribute act in their bleak mansion near Central Park. ‘The Addams Family’ was a musical which did not disappoint on any level – being as joyful in our own ‘outerworld’ as it would be to those in the ‘underworld’. I hope that fact doesn’t annoy the family members too much – doubtless they all shrank away when they heard the loud applause at the end. Too much appreciation and joy must cause considerable distress to those who live in close proximity with the undead.
However facts are facts, and the whole evening was a delight. Great music courtesy of Mr Waterhouse, Mr Thomas, Mr Brown and the excellent band was catchy and cleverly witty throughout. I enjoyed the contemporary references fitted into the songs. Impressive comedic set pieces came with J Jay’s Hispanic accent (a tribute no doubt to the late, great Raul Julia). Jay played the part to perfection, with lovely comic asides allied to excellent singing (would we expect anything less?). His wife, Morticia, who at a phrase of French can make Gomez weak at the knees, was played with slinky elegance by Niamh, who has a pedigree stretching back to Year 9, and it showed. She was sultry, poised and elegant throughout – except when she was being deceived by her family, of course - or perhaps ‘accidently-on-purpose misinformed’ would be more accurate.
I remember watching ‘The Addams Family’ as a child. Older readers might recall Sunday morning television in the 1970s, in which the monochrome comedy ruled the airwaves (broadcast after ‘This is Your Right’ and before ‘Wait Till Your Father Gets Home’ – I didn’t waste my weekends). From my recollection, the finger-clicking theme tune was great, and the crazily morbid Addams themselves a joy, as was their labyrinthine, crenelated villa, guarded over by the watchful manservant, Lurch. However, no aspect of any plot remains in my mind. I think a storyline may have been incidental. ‘TAF’ was somewhat akin to another US programme of that era ‘The Beverley Hillbillies’ (both contained a bizarre ‘Granny’ figure), in that all that seemed to happen is that squares and straights (teachers, bank managers, realtors, doctors etc.) would make an appointment to visit the house on some pretext, and then proceed to be scared, puzzled and flummoxed by what they discovered. The comedy lay in the meeting of two worlds, and it was a gift that kept on giving.
Was this musical going to be any different? Of course not. The tried-and-tested formula this time centred on the Romeo-and-Juliet-style love between weirdo, black-gymslipped Wednesday (played with such verve and convincing adolescent angst by Emily) and apple-pie All-American teen Lucas Beineke (Oliver in great form as the clean-cut Ohioan). Would this path of true ever run smooth, considering the two families’ differing backgrounds? Unlikely. No wonder Wednesday was so torn. Her annoying little brother, Pugsley, was being literally pulled apart on a rack during his interactions with his love-struck sibling: four members of the undead volunteering to spatchcock him upon request. What if Wednesday were to leave home to marry Lucas? Would he just turn into a boring normal? Archie was a revelation in this role, showing how far he has come with such clear diction and a fabulous voice.
Of course, special mention must go to the voice of Fraser too. While his colleagues spent hours learning their lines, Fraser was busily perfecting the timbre of his guttural emissions, since (like the rude mechanical Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who, being ‘slow of study’, is chalked up to play the lion) his was a role he could do extempore for it was nothing but grunting. Except for one sung line to end the show – his only utterance. However, he had, of course, to spend many hours in make-up to be uglified into the terrifying slow-moving butler (that’s a compliment, Fraser). Mal and Alice (Lucas’ parents) were suitably stuffy as the buttoned-up newbies who have yet to enter the madcap world of the ‘family from hell’ (perhaps, literally). Adult readers might have been reminded of Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show as bespectacled Mal and an A-line-skirted Alice were shown into the hall by the grunting steward. Ben was perfect for the role who had all the bemusement of a man who has left his youthful indiscretions behind and now wants to be taken seriously, but has instead become a bore. Miranda played his wife, Alice, as a disappointed woman whose middle-class mumsiness disguised the beating heat of red-blooded female who once fell in love with a hippy, and somehow ended up with a tedious brief-cased executive with a mortgage. The audience loved it when she unbuttoned her pastel cardie and threw caution to the wind in the ‘Full Disclosure’ finale of Act One. Miranda’s singing and her character’s untypically seductive table-top writhing were the arguably one of the highlights of the show - as indeed was Ben/Mal’s transformation into a bandanna-wearing, tee-shirted dude, (all patchouli and Woodstock) as he too cast his cares aside to win back his wife.
I also enjoyed Gomez’s sword-fighting, cigar twirling and hip-shaking as he showed his Latino dance moves alongside his wife. The choreography and timings were so professional as was the dancing of the chorus of ghosts. It is a tribute to the skilful make-up department that I just couldn’t recognise anybody (and I had my distance glasses on), so that when members of the ensemble ask me if I saw them, I just have to say ‘yes’ rather unconvincingly. It is, as ever thanks to the tireless dedication of Ms Kathy Preston that the dancing is so slick. I also did not recognise Tia, until I consulted the programme. She literally lit up the stage as The Moon. Not many people get to play a celestial orb, particularly one which can dance with such elan.
Poor old grandma was too old for dancing, but that did not stop her causing mischief wherever she went – freeloading from the next generation who have given her board and lodging out of family loyalty. One of the biggest laughs of the evening came when after Morticia’s tirade against the interfering old personage, Gomez said ‘but I thought she was your mother’. Who would have thought a girl from Year 9 (Eloise) could ‘age up’ so convincingly? She can be proud of how well she fitted in with the older principals, and she will surely be a star of future productions.
The Addams family mansion has many rooms, which is useful given that many of them are taken up with the electrical and chemical experiments of Gomez’s brother, Fester. White-faced, like his love, The Moon, Fester lit up the stage with his appearances. I say ‘his’ in reference only to the character, for he was played by a girl, Keira of Year 10. This weird, quirky, but lovable individual was really fleshed out by Keira who shone in the role (particularly when in close proximity to a lightbulb).
There are so many people to mention – the staff who assisted, our wonderful peripatetic and outside musicians of the 14-piece band, and the Waterhouse, Brown and Thomas triumvirate who got these youngsters to sing to such a high standard. I leave Miss Worthington to the end for a special mention. This is her first show in overall charge, and the hours and hours of rehearsing and refining, alongside her vision and dedication shone through in this West End–worthy production. I am delighted for her, and I am hope that she felt it was worth it when the audience at the cobwebbed VIP tables and the tiered seats all joined in fulsome applause and appreciative whistling. Even ‘Thing’ might have joined in – had he a spare palm!