Tacoma Musical Playhouse opened it’s 26th season this weekend with a semi-reprise of “The Addams Family.” The show that won national awards for TMP came back with a large returning cast, and with many of its gags intact. But, a reworked second act gave it the pizzaz it needed to appeal to an audience that had seen it before…sometimes more than once. The result was a show that represented well in a crowded weekend of theatre openings. At the end of the night, it received resounding applause and more than one, “snap, snap.”
How you remember The Addams Family from a historical perspective depends on your age. Some know them from various animated iterations of the clan. These were prominent from the 1970s through the 90s. Older people recall the weekly series that ran 1964-1966. Older folks yet or those with a superb sense of history remember them the way they were originally introduced, namely as a series of cartoons in New Yorker Magazine. Charles Addams created them as a loving family…albeit with strange and macabre fetishes. It is in this mashup of family and fiend that the characterizations bloom in this show.
The ostensible head of the Addams clan is Gomez, played for TMP by Rafe Wadleigh. Hundreds of performances and rehearsals have helped Mr. Wadleigh hone Gomez to a fine point. His actions are a touch more bizarre, and his tics are a bit more pronounced this time around. Through it all, Rafe Wadleigh owns the character of Gomez. He stays in character through the curtain call, perhaps because he is stuck there. He’s the comedic soul of the family Addams and couldn’t be better. Except…he will be…in three years…if the show comes back.
Part of The Addams Family’s lasting popularity (can the TV series really have run only three seasons?) is the smoldering relationship between Gomez and his wife, Morticia. In the second act, Gomez and Morticia depict toreador and bull respectively, and one suspects this may not have been a rare occurrence between the two. The Addams’ marriage is healthier than most, but it’s also kept on its toes with secrets and sexual blackmail A ghoul of a soul with a hot-blooded vixen barely beneath the surface, Morticia is played by Linda Palacios with just the right balance of comedy, creepiness, and sex appeal. Ms. Palacios’ skill as a dancer has been discussed by Drama in the Hood, but it bears repeating that she is effortlessly light on her feet, and a pleasure to watch move to music.
It’s always fun to watch younger performers return, as it is an opportunity to enjoy their performance and vocal growth. In the role of Wednesday Addams, Savana Masako Smith was really good before, but she is miles better this time around! Her singing voice has matured into rarified air, and she is far surer of herself on stage than she was when the show first took this stage. Her performance was one of the best parts of this show, and she bears watching with a close eye as her career continues.
John Kelleher’s Fester would be easy to overplay. JUST KIDDING, because Fester must be overplayed, and Mr. Kelleher reaches absurd heights in his portrayal of the ghoul with a heart of gold. Fester’s behind the scenes aiding and abetting a happy ending are an important part of the plot, and John Kelleher strikes all the right notes. How much did the crowd believe in his interstellar travel at the end? They craned their necks to try to find him in the auditorium’s night sky. That’s called believable, Mr. Kelleher!
Wednesday is in love with a boy from the Beineke clan. It’s a family a bit more traditional than the Addams. When the two families meet, world’s collide and secrets are unearthed. Not surprisingly, the Addams’ teach the Beinekes a thing or two on the way to happiness, dark hearts, and black flowers. The Beinecke clan is played by Erik Furuheim (Dad), Michele Greenwood Bettinger (Mom), and Jake Atwood (Lucas, aka Wednesday’s heartthrob). All three are superb, and Ms. Bettinger nearly steals the mid-portion of the show when she exercises her inner showgirl. Mr. Furuheim is very believable as the fuming Mal, and Jake Atwood, complete with signature rifle-crack shooting of his cuffs is great as Lucas. Mr. Atwood is very comfortable in the young love genre and is very much at ease in this role. Together, the Beinekes do a wonderful job in these key roles.
Drama in the Hood was discussing another South Sound production of “The Addams Family” with a prospective cast member of that show. He said, “I don’t want to do Lurch, because Jonathan Bill IS Lurch.” We couldn’t say it any better. From his dance moves (reliably 12 beats behind the rest of the cast) to his dialog that you would almost swear you can make out, Mr. Bill defines Lurch in a way to make it less than surprising that someone would quake at the idea of competing. Sylvester Stallone is Rocky Balboa. Daniel Radcliffe is Harry Potter. Jonathan Bill is Lurch. In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.
Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson is one of the South Sound’s most beloved character actresses and is superb as Grandma Addams in this show. Her high-pitched cackle brings to mind a potion in the basement, and so it is here. Her interaction with Howy Howard’s Pugsley is very well-done, and Grandma’s contributions to the pivotal dinner party are essential and very nicely performed. Watch for Ms. Ferguson anytime a comedy is on stage in this town, because she has not, and will not, disappoint.
The complete cast is quite large because of the ancestors who periodically show up. Though they aren’t given much to do plot-wise, they succeed in showing off the gifts and talents of Jon Douglas Rake who directs and choreographs almost every TMP show. His choreography with such a crowded stage is a testament to his skill.
You have to know that some shows bring out the giddy in a costumer more than others. Julles Milles and crew did a beautiful job dressing this show.
Tacoma Musical Playhouse is the newest of the big Tacoma-area houses, but it’s nod to classic theatre is a part of its charm. Where else will you find an “Overture,” and an “Entr’acte” anymore? The live orchestra, under the direction of Jeffrey Stvrtecky, did a wonderful job with this production.
Set designer Dennis Kurtz had a lot of fun with this show. Subtle set-pieces dot the stage and add to the final product.
Finally, during his curtain speech, Mr. Rake will make mention of TMP’s season sponsor, Jason Light of Edward Jones, University Place. Watch for another reference to Mr. Light somewhere in the show.
Yes, it is another rendition of “The Addams Family,” by Tacoma Musical Playhouse. But, the cast’s obvious delight in their roles and the reworked second half make for a delightful night of community theatre. Call it a comfortable shoe with brand new soles. So, make your plans to see it, and don’t tarry to buy a ticket, because comfortable shoes with new soles never stay on the shelf for long.
“The Addams Family,” by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Tacoma Musical Playhouse 7116 Sixth Ave, 98406, Fri-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun. 2 pm through Oct. 16. Sat. Sept. 28, and Oct. 5, 2 pm. Tickets: tix6.centerstageticketing.com/sites/tacomamusicalplayhouse/event-details.php?e=1553 Info: https://tmp.org or 253-565-6867