Spooky Season Opens with The Addams Family at San Diego Musical Theatre
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, Oct. 1, 2023
One normal night is all Wednesday wants, but it's a tall order for her creepy, kooky, rule-flouting family. The Addams Family, a musical comedy based off of the cartoon strip by Charles Addams, is yet another lens through which to explore this longtime favorite macabre family. The show runs at San Diego Musical Theatre through October 29, just in time to wrap up the spooky season.
While some may arrive at the theatre expecting the same story they recall from a film or TV adaptation, this 2010 musical, written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, actually has an original plot line which follows the creator’s cartoons. As the production opens, the familiar faces from the Addams family are arriving at the crypt, eager to gather amongst their dead ancestors for their annual celebration. Before the ancestors can slink back to their afterlife activities, however, Uncle Fester presses them into the service of helping Wednesday and boyfriend, Lucas Beineke, find love. The timing is fortuitous, as the Beinekes have just accepted an invitation to visit for dinner and drinks at the Addams mansion. Wednesday is terrified; after all, her boyfriend’s family is normal and hers is… well… not. Adding to the pressure, Wednesday has recently accepted Lucas’ proposal. She begs her father to keep this a secret until she finds the opportunity - after dinner - to break the news to her mother. The Beinekes arrive and secrets and tensions mount… how can this young romance survive the odds? And what will happen when Morticia discovers that her husband, Gomez, for the first time ever, has kept a secret from her?
This iteration of the musical, under the direction of Carlos Mendoza, opens strong with the ensemble number “When You’re An Addams,” featuring not only the Addamses (Mauricio Mendoza as Gomez, Erica Marie Weisz as Morticia, Ryan Burtanog as Uncle Fester, Debbie NiCastro as Grandma, Lena Ceja as Wednesday, A.J. Gange as Pugsley, and Jackson Marcy as Lurch) but also the ancestor troupe (Laura Bueno, Christine Gillilan, Darrand Hall, Carissa Hamann, Katey Konderik-Oducayen, Sarah Pierce, Luis Sherlinee, Nick Siljander, Jaxon Smith, and Eli Wood). This song is a highlight of both Richard Dueñez Morrison’s work as music director as well as that of Aaron Pomeroy as choreographer. After some exposition, the audience also gets to meet the perfectly square Beinekes (Ryan Fahey as dad Mal, Alexis Zimmerman as mom Alice, and Carson Inouye as Lucas). Understudy Jack Amador also is on deck to step in for Pugsley as needed.
Not only does this production feature some great ensemble scenes, but it will also evoke nostalgia for theatregoers who are existing fans of its central odd, ghoulish family… though they will have to contend with a few key shifts. Wednesday, in this script, is closer to adulthood, leaving her parents to wrestle with their desire to protect her and keep her young and to see her make her mark on the world. This is most evident in Gomez’s song, “Happy/Sad” in Act 2, a scene which allows actor Maurizio Mendoza to lean into his tender side. His reflections on doing anything for his daughter are also delightfully at odds with the expectation to keep his wife happy throughout the production.
Another highlight is Ryan Burtanog’s Fester, who serves as the show’s narrator, but also who helps control the direction of the production via a mid-show winter storm. He sings a number of songs throughout the production, all of which showcase his plaintive tone well, and really serves almost like the ringleader of the ancestor circus, a role that Burtanog seems quite comfortable with; this story shift also creates space for the talented dancers in the ancestor line to shine throughout the show.
Bringing the story in a bit from the abstract towards the more relevant, Lena Ceja (Wednesday) and Carson Inouye (Lucas) beautifully headline “One Normal Night,” a song that successfully establishes the young lovers’ fears and anxieties at having their romance fail due to their families’ influence; the lyrics and sentiment will likely be familiar to many audience members who have felt similarly in their lives.
The technical components also play strongly into this production. The show’s set (Mathys Herbert) features a layered wooden facade framing a circular door. This frame is then re-dressed to imply both indoor and outdoor locations using a series of sliding insets, lanterns, and some interesting trees, created using knotted white yarn on a black cut-out in a way that evokes thoughts of spiderwebs. This is lit with textured effects by lighting designer Michelle Miles.
The actors wear costumes designed by Chong Mi Land; stand-outs in this category are the wide variety of white/cream/gray accoutrements worn by the historical Addams ancestors, as well as hair and make-up design by Monique Hanson. The asks for Land and Hanson were huge, but the payout was spectacular. On the evening I attended, Lurch’s make-up was outstanding, in particular.
I did wonder if some different design choices might have been made with more collaboration between the design team members. For example, the khaki that the Beinekes wear upon arrival during “One Normal Night” lacks differentiation from the cream/white/gray of the ancestors; perhaps some more disparate lighting in that scene or different costume elements would have helped create a more stark contrast between the spooky and the ordinary.
When the show began, there were immediate snaps throughout the overture, and by the end, the audience was on its feet, clapping along through bows to the iconic theme song ditty… it seems that this kooky family is much beloved by all. If the full house was any indication, tickets for this production will go fast.
The Addams Family plays at San Diego Musical Theatre through Oct. 29.