The Addams Family, based on the original single-pan cartoons and subsequent television and movie adaptions by the same name, is slowly but surely becoming one of the most popular musical theatre pieces to grace the stages of schools and amateur theatre companies. This is certainly no surprise – the show itself presents to audiences what the New York Times described as ‘a tepid goulash of vaudeville song-and-dance routines, Borscht Belt jokes, stingless sitcom zingers and homey romantic plot lines’, thereby reaching a broad demographic and appealing to a certain sense of nostalgia. As with any production with recognisable ties to existing material, particularly material that many theatregoers would have grown up with, the risks in staying true to the core of the piece are definitely rather heavy, and have the very real potential to truly polarise an audience. PLOS, however, made every effort to offer their audience the Addams’ that they had known and loved in their youth, whilst still breathing a very welcomed breath of fresh air into the family, subsequently allowing for a larger than life adaption of this ghoulish tribe. Such effort was incredibly well recieved. The connection that the audience felt with this family was evident from the playing of overture as they volunteered the Addams’ signature ‘click-clicks’ and continued throughout with howls of laughter, roaring applause and emotional ‘ooos and awws’.
This telling of The Addams Family finds Wednesday Addams hitting puberty and discovering love, within her heart of hatred, for the dashing Lucas Beineke. It is the coming together of the ‘normal’ Beineke family and the ‘not-so-normal’ Addams that ignites this ‘creepy… kooky, mysterious and spooky and altogether loopy’ piece. Direction by Danny Ginsberg was engaging and well calculated. Due to the family being known for the apathy and rigidness, it is often the case with productions of The Addams Family that the direction comes across as uninspired and lacklustre, despite the intention of showcasing the sometimes purposefully underwhelming nature of the Addams’. For the most part, this was not the case with Ginsberg, who was generally able to maintain the essence of the family whilst strategically injecting a captivating energy and sense of wonderment. This was particularly true during the ‘Full Disclosure’ number and the scenes surrounding it.
The set was fitting and added brilliantly to the intended mood. Also captivating were the Harry Potter-esque moving portraits, featuring the Ancestors – an element I had not yet seen in a portrayal of the show. The moving set pieces were quite efficient in that different combinations of pieces did well to convincingly portray several settings including Central Park as well as the very many rooms of the Addams’ Mansion. While the set was lovely to look at (again, I’d love to mention the ‘Full Disclosure’ portion of the show here), the set changes were at times quite clunky and lengthy. Often, crew memebers could be seen while the stage was lit and there was one instance when people were seen crossing the stage running behind the set, while a scene was playing out in front of it. While not a set issue, it should also be mentioned that many audience members missed the first moments of Act 2 as it had begun while audience was still piling into the theatre. I completely appreciate the importance of sticking to schedules in theatre however, when a good portion of the audience in the stalls have not yet made it to their seats, it is unfortunate that they, those already seated, and the performers on stage should be so distracted. These were most likely opening night blunders that I am sure were remedied in the following performances. However, using opening night as an excuse doesn’t really fly, when so much of the production was definitely on point during its maiden voyage.
Lighting was definitely hit and miss. It appeared as though some cues were executed too late, leaving performers with little to no face light for some time. While this show is definitely ‘dark’, to not be able to see the faces of performers is a definite shame. This was certainly not the case for the entirety of the show, but the inconsistencies were distracting at times.
Musical direction by Bev Woodford should be recognised. The orchestra and ensemble harmonies alike were a joy to listen to – exceptionally tight and rarely faltering. In fact, the overall performance by the ensemble, as the Addams’ Ancestors, was quite impressive, with each performer embodying the story of their particular ancestor very overtly, right throughout the production. It was a real treat to see the consistency in the ensemble – the way the walked, danced, reacted and even stood, always in line with their particular character. I tried to find someone slacking off – I just couldn’t.
Choreography by Steve Rostron suited the essence of the show impeccably. Rostron was able to incorporate a contemporary flair and energy into an ancient family, while paying particular attention to the individual nuances of the characters as they moved. While choreography was not always executed in sync, this almost worked in Rostron’s favour, as it only highlighted the individuality of the characters all the more. It was refreshing to see choreography that accommodated for the abilities of the cast in a way that was especially captivating for the audience.
The leading cast were exceptional. Karl McNamara and Nadia Gianinotti gave audiences the Gomez and Morticia Addams they came to see. As the Addams’ patriarch, McNamara embodied the suave, charismatic Gomez brilliantly, with hilarious comic-timing and true heart. His vocals were impressive and, as the audience’s applause and chuckles made evident, his reappearance on stage throughout the show was highly anticipated and definitely welcomed.
Gianinotti’s Morticia provided just the right concoction of apathy, seduction and sarcastic sass. Too often, portrayals of Morticia leave audiences wanting more – her sultry nature lost in attempts to appear lacking in enthusiasm. Gianinotti’s use of voice and movement was definitely in contrast to these portrayals and was simply on point. Her interactions with McNamara were convincing and allowed for a deeper connection between the audience and the couple, particularly important for the narrative’s final scenes.
Stephanie James as Wednesday proved quirky and disturbed – perfect for Wednesday, a young lady who has grown up under very quirky and disturbing circumstances as an Addams. James’ portrayal was quite strong, particularly her vocals which were, at times, simply outstanding. At times, her movement came across as a little rigid and forced. While this could definitely be pinned as character traits of Wednesday, it would have been nice to see her loosen up during the scenes within which she would fantasise over or interact with Lucas (Matt Allen), showing the contrasting, softer side of Wednesday on which this narrative somewhat stands. The relationship between Lucas and Wednesday was certainly lovely but sometimes felt a little forced as well, lacking the chemistry expected. Allen’s vocals were generally strong and his performance in ‘Crazier Than You’ was definitely well received.
Oliver Pinkett was a brilliant ‘Pugsley’. Mischievous and conniving, cheeky and full of heart, his performance was very enjoyable. Particularly impressive was the strength of Pinkett’s vocals, especially in ‘What If?’ It was also a joy to see the fun he was having up on stage while being tortured during ‘Pulled’. I definitely look forward to seeing more of Pinkett in future productions.
A most certain highlight was the performance of Carolyn Waddell as Lucas’s mother, ‘Alice’. Waddell gave a very energetic portrayal which was complimented by awe-striking vocals and a definite control over the two very contrasting personalities the character presents. Her comedic-timing was a joy and her overall performance a true delight.
PLOS has once again proved to be a force to be reckoned with in Melbourne amateur theatre. While there were certainly some hiccups, I definitely recommend a trip to Frankston for this school holiday treat – whether it be to indulge in some real nostalgia or simply to appreciate the standard amateur theatre has to offer.