Creepy and kooky
Chico State’s spring musical a sure-fire hit
Walking into Laxson Auditorium for a dress-rehearsal glimpse of this week’s School of the Arts production of the smash Broadway musical The Addams Family, I anticipated spectacle. After all, the annual spring musical is traditionally the largest, most lavish production of the year for the university’s Department of Music and Theatre, giving faculty, staff and students an opportunity to go all out in creating sets, costumes, lighting effects, sound design, performance and publicity. I left assured that all of these things are being attended to with joyful and crafty diligence.
The play itself is a pastiche of the look of the original Charles Addams cartoons that ran in The New Yorker beginning in 1938, the macabre-lite sitcom humor of the popular mid-1960s television show, and the high-end costumery of the big-budget Hollywood films—with the added enhancement of a Tony-nominated musical score by Andrew Lippa. The original Broadway production cost an estimated $15 million to stage, according to some sources, and while the Chico State production budget was a bit less than that, faculty member Robert Pickering’s intricately crafted set—spanning the stage and towering to the top of the auditorium’s very high ceiling—projects a sense that no effort was spared to create the feeling of decrepit opulence required to properly house the Addams family and their shenanigans.
In true sitcom fashion, the plot involves the complications of now-teenager Wednesday Addams’ (Katie Thornton) engagement to clean-cut boyfriend Lucas Beineke (Connor Norton) and her attempt to have him and his seemingly normal parents, Mal (Eric Dobson) and Alice (Samantha Corbett), meet her, outwardly at least, more outré parents, the iconic Gomez (Michael Bram) and Morticia (Meghan Collins). Songs, dance and (family- and child-friendly) weirdness ensue as the whole large cast including, of course, younger brother Pugsley (Brittney Nusbaum), bald-headed Uncle Fester (Louis Fuentes), zombie-esque butler Lurch (Alejandro Padilla), shaggy-haired Grandma (Allie Griffey) and a chorus line of Addams ancestors are all woven into the increasingly comic action.
Director Matthew Miller—who also directed the university’s very fun and successful fall musical, Reefer Madness—says that, “Casting this show was a challenge because walking into the theater, the audience already has a relationship with the characters that are going to be on the stage.” He met the challenge successfully, both in physical appearance of the actors, and with the aid of Sandra Barton’s beautifully crafted costumes, which both echo Addams’ original cartoon renderings and enhance each character’s personality and physical presence.
One of this production’s innovations is having the live orchestra playing on stage rather than more traditionally placed in the pit in front. In dress rehearsal, the music’s volume sometimes overpowered the actors’ voices, a challenge that surely will be overcome by the time of performances. That said, the intricately arranged and beautifully played music was enjoyable, and it was fun to watch as the characters and dancers interacted with the live music.
Though originally scorned—or more accurately, eviscerated—by New York Times critic Ben Brantley in its 2010 Broadway run as “this genuinely ghastly musical … that generally offers little to shiver about, at least not in any pleasurable way,” The Addams Family is one of the most popular and financially successful musicals ever produced, having grossed a billion dollars in ticket sales faster than any other play in history. Goes to show that, while critics may have bountiful powers of critical assessment, the true worth of musical theater is more accurately measured by the enjoyment it delivers and the applause it wins from its audience. And by that scale, this production is sure to make bank.