(Addams) Family Fun at The Ritz Theatre Company
True confessions time. I am old enough to remember when “The Addams Family” – with its loosely constructed story, creepy characters, dimly lit, cobweb encrusted house, and a look at a lifestyle that routinely delivered shivers along with laughs – came weekly into my home via TV. Fast-forward many decades to 2010, when “The Addams Family” debuted on Broadway. With a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (of “Jersey Boys” fame) and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippe, the musical took a slightly different path. But instead of basing its characters on the many previous film and television versions, the characters in the play came straight off the pages of Charles Addams’s oddball cartoons. And, in spite of their bizarre behavior, strange fashion sense, and beyond-unconventional perspective on life, the Addams clan demonstrated their own unique brand of humanity and charm.
Right before the show opened on Broadway in a 2010, journalist Andrew Stark sub-headed his Wall Street Journal review of a collection of Addams’s cartoons in this way: “Charles Addams's cartoon world is full of loving and caring people. How odd.”
Stark went on to point out the gang’s more mainstream characteristics. Mortitia, he noted, is a fiercely loyal mother. Gomez is consistently concerned about being a good mentor and role model for his children. And the two of them appear to be very much in love with each other. Real family values.
Last week, the quirky “The Addams Family” musical opened for a three-plus-week run at the Ritz Theatre Company in Haddon Township, NJ. And I’m here to tell you that the show delivers the whole package – the creepy and the charming, the funny and the serious, the biting dialogue and the silly jokes, the song-and-dance routines and the dramatic moments – and does so with a well-paced and visually dynamic production.
Following the opening, I talked with Producing Artistic Director, Co-Founder and “The Addams Family” director Bruce Curless about the show and why it was selected.
“For our summer show, we always chose a big musical, and we're actually one of the few theatres that go that route," Curless said.
“We have a group who reviews the shows and decides which ones to present each season,” he said, “and, especially for summer, we want something that has a good mix of characters and is entertaining for the entire family.”
Curless also mentioned that the group tries to choose plays that will appeal to the artists. “We want each person in the cast to have a moment to shine.”
“The Addams Family” definitely offers actors that opportunity.
It also gives members of the cast some flexibility with interpretation of the script.
After the show, my friend and I discussed how some of the lines seemed really on-point, current events-wise, and wondered if they had been improvised. Curless laughed when I asked him about this.
“We perform the show pretty much as it’s written,” he said. “But, because Joe Carlucci (who plays Gomez) is particularly gifted in comedy, he occasionally goes a little outside of the script, as does Joey Quaile, who plays Uncle Fester.
“Honestly,” he said, “the show almost requires it.”
The visual elements – such as lighting and sets and costumes – are also key to the production’s overall feeling.
Traditional painted backdrops have been replaced by projections of large, beautifully detailed images onto chiffon curtains. And, at one point, the projections are part of the story. I will not elaborate more, for fear of revealing a couple particularly delightful moments later in the show, but will say that the projections are wonderful as scenery and action.
“Creating those was great fun,” Curless told me. “It was initially my idea, but it was our talented lighting and set designer, Chris Miller, who made it happen.”
The projected images also serve as a way to allow scenery to be moved around the stage in a somewhat obscured fashion. “It can be distracting for the audience to see the sets changing,” Curless said. “I like to have things flow, and this is a way to do that.”
The Ancestors, fantastically costumed and made-up ensemble members that represent the family ghosts, also play a huge part in the seamless switching of scenery and sets.
“I am IN LOVE with the Ancestors,” Curless exclaimed.
I, too, was crazy about the Ancestors. And these are anything but your garden-variety spirits. Their outfits are ghoulishly hued, but far from drab or plain. And their terrific dancing and singing skills make them an integral part of what is happening on stage throughout the show.
“Tina’s Productions, a local place, designed and made all the costumes,” Curless said. “In fact, we were lucky enough to have Tina work on these. She outdid herself.”
As I already said, this show works on all counts. The music is snappy and proficiently played by a five-piece pit orchestra. The singing is superb, and the dancing, choreographed by Roberta Curless, adds an occasional revue-style touch to the production.
And the story, however offbeat and strange, does have its moments. “If you’re looking for messages, they’re in there,” Curless said. “’The Addams Family’ is about love, and family, and acceptance.
“But, mainly,” he added, “it’s just great entertainment.”
“The Addams Family” runs through August 7 at the Ritz Theatre Company, 915 White Horse Pike, Haddon Township, NJ. For tickets or more information, visit www.ritztheatreco.org.