Highlight the spooky fun
By Eric Marchese
“The Addams Family” has triumphed in every medium in which it has appeared, from its origins as a single-panel comic in The New Yorker magazine to the wildly popular ’60s TV series to the big screen and, most recently, as the stars of the Broadway musical carrying their name.
Hats off to whoever devised the idea of building a live theater production around America’s most beloved family of the macabre. Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice had already given us “Jersey Boys” and “Turn of the Century” before turning their attention to the famed members of the family first created by cartoonist Charles Addams in the late 1930s. Andrew Lippa (“The Wild Party”) wrote the show’s music and lyrics.
The 2009 show has been seen far and wide, including various Orange County productions. Now it’s Newport Theatre Arts Center’s turn, with “The Addams Family” leading off the company’s 2023-2024 season.
The choice makes sense, given that the show has humor, heart, and a foolproof score – and the fact that its characters are familiar thanks to wide exposure in various media.
Kathy Paladino, who is directing NTAC’s production, said her familiarity with the show extends to having directed a teen version of the show at The Attic in 2016, running lights for Costa Mesa Playhouse’s 2017 staging, and having been an audience member for a teen production by OCCT earlier this year.
Perhaps surprisingly, “The Addams Family” poses few challenges for directors – at least not for a veteran like Paladino. “When a show is this well-written, it just kind of directs itself.” One facet of the show, she noted, is a potential stumbling block: “The difficulty lies in keeping the story and relationships honest and sincere without losing the wacky humor.”
Is the show like others Paladino has previously helmed? “I’ve directed numerous musicals, and they all have a similar trajectory in how I approach the rehearsal process. Of the other musicals I’ve done, ‘Addams’ is probably closest to ‘Young Frankenstein,’ mainly because both scripts are tight and smartly written, and have great music.”
Where “Addams” differs is that “the ensemble has more stage time than most musicals, other than ‘Titanic’.” In this case, the ensemble members are called “the Ancestors”: Eight deceased members of the Addams clan who function as a sort of Greek chorus throughout the play.
Paladino says this octet “are really integral to the story and are in almost every musical number. They do a lot!” Carrying that crucial function in Newport Beach are Cheryl Dekeyser, Sebastian Kahn, Ashley Montgomery, Ariana Nin, Shannyn Page, Alexis Slear, Ally Vargas and Terry Vickrey.
What can NTAC deliver that other “Addams” productions might not? “NTAC offers an intimacy that larger theaters can’t duplicate,” Paladino noted. “Although, you could call this a ‘big’ show with lots of big musical numbers, at its core, it’s a moving, intimate story of family, love and acceptance. Hopefully, we will bring that to the NTAC audiences.”
Casting always plays a crucial role, and Paladino notes that “for this show, the ‘look’ is very important – but that also has to be combined with talent. And in a musical, you’ve got to get great voices. I also look for actors with flexibility in approaching a role. The casting process is so important. When I get the casting right, my job is very easy.”
If so, then this “Addams” must be a piece of cake for Paladino, who said NTAC has “a stellar cast – talented, hard-working and just so nice.”
In the leads as the titular family are Brandon Gomez as dad Gomez Addams, with Noelle Carney Campbell and Kendall Sinclair double-cast as mom Morticia; Brooke Lewis as daughter Wednesday; Brady Barrett and Ethan Horner double-cast as son Pugsley; Owen Lovejoy as Uncle Fester; Jack Millis as Lurch; and Victoria Groskreutz as Grandma.
The Beinekes, the “normal” family drawn into the Addams’ wonderfully weird world when teen Lucas becomes romantically involved with Wednesday, are portrayed by Kayla Agnew and Randall Goddard, as Alice and Mal, and Sean Farrell as Lucas.
Paladino expressed a certain comfort level with this cast, having worked “with about 60% of the cast before – mainly the leads.”
Campbell is on stage as Morticia and is also teaming with Sage Delaney as the production’s makeup artists.
Paladino has assistant director Jackie Melbon as her right hand, Kevin Weed is directing Lippa’s distinctively tangy score, and the cast’s dance moves are being choreographed by Maureen Russell.
The technical demands are being handled by technical director Josh Serrano, stage manager Sage Delaney (the show’s co-makeup artist), producers Kristina Anderson and Rae Cohen, and theater manager Bob Fetes. Serrano and Jim Huffman are the show’s lighting designers and Huffman is the sound designer.
As the visual elements for a show like “The Addams Family” are crucial, Paladino praised the work of costume designers Kat Scott and Jenny Senior and the versatile Huffman, the production’s scenic designer.
Huffman’s set design work, in particular, elicited these comments from the director: “NTAC has a small stage with very little wing space, so it’s almost impossible to do intricate scene changes. Jim has designed a unit set that incorporates aspects of each scene.”
“We are trying to create a ‘feel’ for the show,” Paladino continued, “and hopefully the audience will appreciate scene changes that flow. In that respect I think this will be quite different from productions that make use of a lot of scene changes. Our space is compact, and I think our set works well with that compactness.”
All around, Paladino sees “Addams” as a winner from the ground up: The show is “fun,” Brickman and Elice’s script “is very smart, very funny, and really well-written,” and Lippa’s music “is just wonderful.”
The end result, she said, is that “it’s a joy to spend time with the ‘creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky’ Addams Family.”
Eric Marchese has written about numerous subjects for more than 38 years as a freelance and staff journalist at a wide variety of publications, but is best known as a critic, feature writer and news reporter covering theater and the arts throughout Orange County and beyond.
‘The Addams Family’
Newport Theatre Arts Center
2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach
September. 22 - October 22, 2023
(949) 631-0288, www.ntactickets.com