Review: ‘The Addams Family’ at The Ritz Theatre Company in Haddon Township, NJ

They’re ba-ack! If you’re a fan of the macabre clan from the 1960s black-and-white TV show, inspired by Charles Addams’ series of single-frame cartoon drawings for The New Yorker beginning in 1938, then you’ll love the Ritz Theatre Company’s summer musical production of the 2010 Broadway hit The Addams Family. They’re still creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, and the theatrical production, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, is filled with silly gallows humor, pop-culture nostalgia, and lively song and dance to die for.

The cast of 'The Addams Family.' Photo courtesy of The Ritz Theatre Company.
Trudy Graboyes, Steve Rogina, Jennifer Zellers, Joe Carlucci, John Sayles, Joey Quaile, and Brittany Marie. Photo by Chris Miller.

The story, set in Central Park, follows the morbid but lovable household as Gomez and Morticia’s daughter Wednesday, now eighteen, has fallen for Lucas Beineke–a sweet, smart, regular guy from Ohio. The formerly morose and malicious girl undergoes an identity crisis, as she experiences love, changes her black dress for bright yellow, and invites Lucas and his parents to dinner at home with her family. But before they arrive, she urges her ghoulish relatives to act “normal” and her father to keep the secret she confides in him from his beloved wife, with whom he shares everything.

Needless to say, all hell breaks loose as Morticia suspects that Gomez is hiding something, the ordinary Mid-Westerners come face-to-face with the bizarre Addamses and their “crazy sophisticated New York life style,” and Uncle Fester enlists an assemblage of dead forebears from the family tomb to help him fight for love.

Directed with satiric glee by Bruce Curless, the nineteen-member cast delights in the dark humor and eccentricities of the familiar characters. Joe Carlucci as Gomez is torn between his demanding daughter and suspicious wife, soulfully singing of feeling “Trapped” and about the “Two Things” (which later become the “Four Things”!) he would never do.

Jennifer Zellers is a knockout as the darkly seductive Morticia, moving around the stage with enticing grace, dancing passionately with her husband (to “Tango de Amor”), and capturing all of the quirky allure of her role. Brittany Marie’s Wednesday is unlike the little girl we know from TV and the 1990s spin-off movies The Addams Family and Addams Family Values; she is cheerful and animated as she’s “Pulled” in a new direction by love, leading Gomez to note, with a bittersweet tone, that life is “Happy Sad” and “Wednesday’s Growing Up” (observing that “she’ll be Thursday before you know it!”).

Contributing to the laughs are Steve Rogina as the grunting zombie-butler Lurch, Trudy Graboyes as the squeaky Grammy Addams (though Morticia and Gomez are not quite sure whose mother she is, or if she’s really even a member of the family!), and John Sayles as Pugsley, who sabotages the after-dinner game of “Full Disclosure”–“loosely based on the Inquisition” and visually referencing Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper–with his grandmother’s potion of Acrimonium, in an attempt to unleash the underlying dark side of his newly transformed sister.

Thing (by puppeteer Dalton D. Jetter) makes a few witty appearances, the ghostly chorus of Addams Family ancestors (Lexi Baldachino, Lindsey Krier, Chris Jewell, Joshua Kurtz, Casey Clark, Achilles Inverso, and Michael J. Krowicki, Jr.) delivers thoroughly entertaining segments of haunting harmonies and dancing dead (“When You’re an Addams” and “Opening”), and Joey Quaile steals our hearts, and the show, as Uncle Fester, smitten with the moon (“The Moon and Me”) and determined that love should triumph, as he comments on the events to the audience, sings sweetly and strums his ukulele, turns in some terrific soft-shoe, and makes surprising appearances in hilarious video projections.

Jennifer Zellers and Joe Carlucci. Photo by Chris Miller.
Jennifer Zellers and Joe Carlucci. Photo by Chris Miller.

Jared Calhoun, Rachel Hendrickson, and Ernie Jewell (deftly subbing for David M. Mooney on opening night) round out the cast as Lucas, Alice, and Mal Beineke, who unwittingly discover that they have more in common with the Addamses than they would have believed, once they’ve revealed their true selves (“Secrets” and “Waiting”) and opened themselves up to love.

A clever break-apart movable set by Chris Miller easily transitions from the cemetery to the park to the different floors in the Addams’ mansion, and lighting, also by Miller, evokes the eeriness of the family, the lightning flashes of a storm, and the glow of a full moon.

Roberta Curless’ choreography is among the highlights of the show, and costumes by Tina Marie Heinze are first-rate, recreating the style of the ‘60s characters and an array of historic eras for the fashions of the deceased. Five talented pit musicians (Derrick Banks on drums, Sam Brooks on reeds, Philip Fleming on guitar, Jim Sheffer on trumpet, and Conductor Brian Bacon on keyboard) provide the score. It really is a “scre-am,” so go and pay a call on The Addams Family. Ba da da dum, ba da da dum, ba da da dum, snap snap!

Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission.

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The Addams Family plays through Sunday, August 7, 2016, at the Ritz Theatre Company – 915 White Horse Pike, in Haddon Township, NJ. For tickets, call the box office at (856) 858-5230, or purchase them online.