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The Addams Family at 6th Street Playhouse – REVIEW by Harry Duke


The Addams Family at 6th Street Playhouse
REVIEW by Harry Duke

“The Addams Family” first entered the public consciousness as a series of single panel cartoons by Charles Addams that were published in The New Yorker magazine from 1938 till Addams' death in 1988. In 1964, Addams himself was asked to contribute to the originally short-lived but since endlessly syndicated TV series starring John Astin, Carolyn Jones and Jackie Coogan. His main contribution was to assign names and character traits to the now-familiar family members.  Shortly after Addams' death, director Barry Sonnenfeld added his distinctive but complimentary look to the family with two feature films starring Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston and Christopher Lloyd.

In 2007, rights to the characters were obtained for a musical adaptation and by 2009 Marshall Brickman (a frequent Woody Allen collaborator and co-writer of the book for “Jersey Boys”) and Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys”, ”Peter and the Star Catcher”) had written the book for the show with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. According to a January 30, 2009 article in the New York Post, Addams’ heirs insisted that what they come up with be based solely on the New Yorker cartoons with nothing coming from either the TV show or the films.  If true, that’s a shame, because what they did come up with simply isn’t very good and often runs contrary to the spirit and tone of Addams’ original work.  The characters have undergone significant changes and the plot is as simplistic as it can get.

Chris Schloemp, Kim Williams, William Schlosser, Adam BlankenshipWednesday Addams, now 18 (interestingly,  a pre-teen in the cartoons and other incarnations)  wants to bring her straight-laced, Midwestern boyfriend and his family home to meet hers, and she wants her family to act “normal” while her boyfriend’s family is around.  Yes, that hoary old chestnut is the basis for this modern musical. Beyond aging the character to marriage-age, the biggest issue I have with this is that it is a massive violation of how the Addams have long been portrayed and to what we have long been accustomed. To the Addams, and ALL the Addams, THEY are the normal ones. It’s everyone else who’s a bit screwy.  To even hint that a member of the Addams family sees something odd or different about themselves seems very, very wrong.

Another significant character deviation occurs with Uncle Fester.  Perhaps the “oddest” and most malevolent character, Brickman and Elcie have turned Fester into a sort of “Cupid” who must do everything he can to bring the young lovers together.  In the cartoons, he would have had the boyfriend on a bed of nails, and in the TV series he would have been begging Gomez to let him shoot him in the back.

I raise these issues because a show titled “The Addams Family” surely relies on an audience’s familiarity with the characters to entice them in.  It just seems very odd to me to muck with that familiarity in so many ways and not for the better or for any apparent reason.  For example, the Addams family lives in a gothic mansion situated between a cemetery and a swamp. In this show, the Addams family mansion is in the middle of Central Park in New York.  Why?

As frustrated as I found myself with the hackneyed script and character inconsistencies, I did find myself enjoying the work of a very talented cast (under the direction of Matthew McCoy) doing their best with sub-par material. Michael RJ Campbell’s Gomez Addams seems to be a blend of the John Astin/Raul Julia/Nathan Lane takes on the character and is definitely in command on the stage… when his bride lets him be.  Mr. Campbell is also in possession of an incredibly expressive pair of eyebrows which are, of course, put to good use throughout the show. 

Adam Blankenship, Shawna Olivia EiermannShannnon Rider’s Morticia Addams is quite the voluptuous mother of two, though I do wish she had been a tad bit less vivacious and a tad bit more mournful in her overall delivery.  Kit Grimm’s Uncle Fester is problematic only in how the character was written, not in how he delivered it.  He did what the script called for, and he did it well. And while he certainly looks the part, to me it just wasn’t Uncle Fester.  The same goes for Shawna Olivia Eiermann’s Wednesday.

As Lucas Beineke, the boyfriend, Adam Blankenship was all dapper clothing and raging hormones.  Mr. Blankenship was a bright spot in 6th Street’s recent production of “Grease” and it will be interesting to watch him develop as a potential young lead. Chris Schloemp does good work as his stuffed-shirt, tightly-wound father, but you might be wound a little tightly yourself if your wife (Kim Williams) spoke in nothing but rhymes.

Andrew Lippa’s serviceable score was well conducted by Music Director Nathan Riebli via an eight-piece orchestra and the lyrics were well handled by the cast. It says something about the score that the piece of music the audience most responded to was a riff on the TV show’s memorable theme song (Buh-duh-dee-dum, snap, snap…)

This is a good looking show.  Pamela Johnson has dressed the cast spot-on to the familiar images of the characters.  Lighting by Theo Bridant also adds to the atmosphere.  A major set piece is a beautiful red velvet curtain, which is actually involved in the show in some very interesting ways.

The show has its moments. There are some clever sight gags to be enjoyed and the cast is game, but I suspect your enjoyment of the show will depend on your familiarity with the characters and how much leeway you’re willing to give the show’s significant departures from the familiar.  If you go into the theatre looking for AN Addams Family Musical instead of THE Addams Family Musical, you’ll probably end up having a good time.

The Addams  Family

It’s definitely a family-friendly show and it’s obviously the right time of year for it.

But as someone who was introduced to the Addams Family at a very young age by my father’s collection of New Yorker cartoons, and as someone who is forcefully on the side of the Addams in the great “Addams vs. Munsters” debate, I found the Brickman/Elice/Lippa version seriously lacking.

The Addams Family

through November 2

Thurs/Fri/Sat @ 8pm  Sat/Sun @2pm


6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401

(707) 523-4185

Photos by Eric Chazankin