Wednesday, July 29, 2015

'Addams Family:' Making the Most of the Macabre

Pictured in “The Addams Family” are, l-r, Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Grandma, Gideon Johnson as Pugsley, Jesse Sharp as Gomez, Josh Houghton as Lurch, Emmy Burns as Wednesday, Colleen Johnson as Morticia and Tommy Lucas as Uncle Fester. Photos by Keith Stewart for a News-Progress.

By Dan Hagen
Truth is not only stranger than fiction, but stranger even than the Addams Family.
The New Yorker magazine cartoonist Charles Addams once dated a widow named Jacqueline Kennedy, and even proposed marriage to her.
“No,” Jackie replied, adding drily, “What would we talk about? Cartoons?”
Broadway has never shared Jackie’s condescending attitude on that subject. Both comic strips and Broadway musicals are American inventions, and both display the brash energy and optimism that are part of the national spirit.
L’il Abner, Little Orphan Annie, Peanuts, Doonesbury, Superman and Spider-Man all went from four colors to footlights, and so did Addams’ series of humorously macabre New Yorker cartoons collectively referred to as the Addams family.
Colleen Johnson as Mortica and Jesse Sharp as Gomez
And rarely has that transition been more seamlessly successful than in director Therese Kincade’s production of The Addams Family, the best show of a strong summer season at the Little Theatre.
The Addams’ fogbound, cobwebbed mansion in the middle of Central Park is suggested by scene designer Noel Rennerfeldt’s series of shifting cartoonish panels under a looming moon, and the cutely creepy costumes by Jana Henry are picture perfect.
Tyler Mosier’s makeup is dramatically effective, turning the dancing boys and girls we’ve seen all season into almost unrecognizable ghosts from the Addams family crypt.
Emmy Burns is Wednesday Addams (who, come to think of it, must have been the original Goth girl). She’s in love with a boy from the Midwest (Collin Sanderson). When her parents meet his (played by husband and wife Richard and Ann Borders), it’s a marital mess mismatch as epic as the one in La Cage Aux Folles.
Ann Borders as Alice and Tommy Lucas as Fester
The proceedings are overseen by Tommy Lucas as Uncle Fester, in this case a more benevolent version of the bizarre Emcee from Cabaret. Lucas’ gliding asides to the audience are delivered with a secure stage presence.
“You're probably thinking: what could a fat bald person of no specific sexuality know about love?” Lucas asks, teasing the audience with, “So will love triumph, or will everyone go home vaguely depressed?”
Burns’ deadpanned lines hit the right comic note, and Ann Borders gets to turn her Dr. Suessical Pollyanna of a character into a wildcat after being slipped a Mr. Hyde potion. Her table-hopping lament of sexual frustration, Waiting, is a high point.
Top marks to Josh Houghton as Lurch, now the zombified opposite of the loose-limbed Scarecrow he just played in The Wizard of Oz. His precisely controlled movements and facial expressions pull and please the eye for maximum effect in a minimalist role.
Young Gideon Johnson, as Pugsley, has a showstopping song in What If? What a voice that boy has, wondering aloud who will be left to torture him to his satisfaction when his sister weds.
Colleen Johnson has played the crowd-pleasing roles of Mary Poppins and the Wicked Witch of the West already this summer, but her Morticia Addams is her best, cool and cocky and compelling, with clockwork comic timing.
A husband and wife team who are just off the 2014 Addams national tour bring a sleek assurance to this stage. Lexie Dorsett Sharp is terrific as Grandma, stooped halfway to the floor at 102 but still a cougar on the prowl for some 90-year-old hotties.
“ One sip of this will turn Mary Poppins into Madea,” Grandma says to Pugsley of her potion.
“I don't understand your references!” he complains.
“Then stop the damn texting and pick up a book once in a while!”
As the choreographer, Sharp is also responsible for a great deal of the success of the production. The dance moves are angular, exaggerated, sharp and compelling to the eye. Like much of the rest of the show, the dance moves could easily have been either overblown or underwhelming, yet they are not. They’re perfect, and you can see them just pulling the smiles from the audience. The big tango at the end is a particular delight.
Her husband, Equity actor Jesse Sharp, IS Gomez — manic, charming, passionate and witty, his every gesture weirdly and gracefully beguiling.
“Do you have a little girls’ room?” Borders asks him.
“We did once, but we let them all go,” he replies with a shy, sly smile.
Though the first act moves a little more briskly than the second, I must emphasize how sensational this production is as a whole. It’s the kind of a show that makes audience members just turn and grin at each other. The Little Theatre has done a hell of a job with the macabre.
Incidental intelligence: “The Addams Family” — a musical comedy with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice that debuted on Broadway in 2010 — will run here through Aug. 9.
The show has lighting design by Michael Cole, stage management by Jeremy Phillips and musical direction by Kevin Long. The performers include Corbin Williams, Sara Reinecke, Jordan Cyphert, Chloe Kounadis, Emily Bacino, Althaus, Brady Miller, Danielle Davila, Daniel Gold, Harrison Austin and Timmy Valentine (as the form and voice of Cousin Itt, respectively).
For tickets, call The Little Theatre On The Square Box Office at 217-728-7375.

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