If there is any theater role that Lawrence B. Munsey cannot master, he certainly keeps it hidden. The musical star drew huge laughs playing a cross-dressing ham in La Cage aux Folles then swerved into standing ovations as the uptight Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.
Now Munsey is back and giving the comedy performance of the year in The Addams Family at Toby’s Dinner Theatre.
This 2010 Broadway musical has a clever and fun “whistling-past-the-graveyard” score by Andrew Lippa. It also boasts a droll book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, drawn not so much from the old TV series as from the single-panel cartoons by Charles Addams.
It presents a topsy-turvy view of the world via one kooky family that doesn’t draw too much distinction between the living and the dead. Once an Addams, you live on as an Addams forever evidently, even if you are only allowed out of the crypt for special family celebrations.
As Gomez, the beaming proud patriarch of the clan, Munsey brings his precision comic timing and just the right focus to the play’s macabre punch lines. With his Cheshire cat grin and cheesy Spanish accent, Munsey draws the audience in with all the high-spirited flair of a host at the ultimate Halloween party.
It helps, of course, that our hostess, Morticia, is an eyeful whose ample graciousness is more than matched by her cleavage. Seasoned stage pro Priscilla Cuellar meets Munsey on the same gleeful level of mourning glory.
The black-clad duo had the opening night crowd at Toby’s rattling the stage lights with their cheers and applause. Dare we predict a hearty one-two punch for this dead-perfect pair in the next round of Helen Hayes nominations?
Artistic Director Toby Orenstein helped ensure a successful re-animation of The Addams Family by placing it in the hands of Director/Choreographer Mark Minnick. This local pro has a good eye for staging shows in-the-round, making certain that no one takes a dim view of the fun.
The entire interior of the Toby’s dinner theater has been given a 19th-century Gothic makeover by Set Designer David A Hopkins. Watch out for those floating chandeliers and cobwebbed candelabras — and don’t be surprised if the dark wainscotting splits open to reveal the kiddies’ private torture-chamber playroom.
Three of Toby’s award-winning leading men from past shows help uphold The Addams Family entertainment values. Shawn Kettering is a hoot-with-a-heart as Uncle Fester, who pursues an unrequited love affair with the moon, while David Bosley-Reynolds as the hulking Lurch shows us how misunderstood a monster can be.
Somehow managing to upstage them all is David James as Grandma, cracking up the audience whether hugging a pet armadillo or cackling over a magical truth potion.
The two youngest Addams, Wednesday and Pugsley, help the kids in the audience relate to the hardship of being raised by morbidly dense parents. Lovely MaryKate Brouillet wrings every bit of engagement angst out of Wednesday, while Jace Franco (who alternates with Gavin Willard) brings the mischievous Pugsley a surprisingly sweet voice in “What If?”
Of course, parents will agree with Gomez and Morticia that even moldy ancestral ghouls can be more pleasant at times than moody adolescents. Those spectral ancestors become a very real presence in this production, sung and danced by one of Toby’s strongest ensembles in recent memory.
The Beinekes, the supposedly “normal” family that gets the plot rolling when son Lucas becomes engaged to Wednesday, are well played by local favorites Darren McDonnell, Elizabeth Rayca and AJ Whittenberger. Rayca’s uninhibited meltdown in “Full Disclosure” is another head-turning performance in a production filled with them.
Even if you have not heard this score before, Conductor Ross Scott Rawlings and his live musical ensemble provide a lively and robust introduction to everything from the finger-popping “When You’re an Addams” to the tongue-in-cheek “Tango de Amor.”
Lighting Designer Coleen M. Foley makes the audience forget there’s any effort at all in evoking the mood of a moonlit Central Park or a musty mansion chamber. The Sound Design by Jeff Schabdach always keeps the voices and the musicians in balanced harmony throughout.
This show also provides imaginative license in its over-the-top props and costumes. Here they are under the able coordination of Amy Kaplan and — what, again? — the remarkable Lawrence B. Munsey!
Toby’s has this show covered on stage and off. Whatever you were expecting, you’ll likely find The Addams Family the funniest new musical to come along since The Producers.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
The Addams Family plays through April 19, 2015 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. Reservations are required at (301) 596-6161, (410) 730-8311 or 800-88TOBYS, or purchase them online.