BAR HARBOR — I haven’t had such fun with misery since Kathy Bates crushed James Caan’s ankles with a tire iron. The Mount Desert Island High School production of “The Addams Family” has all the creepiness you could possibly want, clever writing, suspense, passion, some delicious torture interludes, loads of laughs and some terrific singing. Eat your heart out, Steven King–perhaps with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
The show opened Friday, Nov. 8. Remaining performances of the “Addams Family” are Friday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. and Saturday Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Visit mdidrama.org.
The short-lived 2009 Broadway musical, like both the 50s TV show and the 90s movie, is based on the macabre cartoon characters created in the 30s by New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams. The music and lyrics are by Andrew Lippa and the book is written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.
It is a mystery why the Broadway run lasted less than two years as the story, involving daughter Wednesday Addams’s secret romance with an ordinary boy, is creepy cute with witty dialogue and catchy tunes. Perhaps it was because most of the lyrics, like these, sung by frustrated parents Morticia and Gomez Addams, are not the sort of thing one might happily hum on the way home from the theater.
We’ve always been there for her
To swear for her
Discourage dental care for her:
Do well for her
Excel for her
Make home a living hell for her
So where did we go wrong?
Playing this delightfully dreadful couple in distress are Carolyn Graeber and Zach Uliano who couldn’t have been more perfectly cast by director Frank Bachman. Graeber not only looks like a proper Morticia with her lengths of raven hair and permanent cat-that-ate-the-canary smile, she also moves exactly as one might imagine the pen and ink cartoon character would move, languorous and alluring. And oh, what a lovely and powerful voice she has, perhaps best showcased in the happy little ditty “Death is Just around the Corner,” sung with a marvelous chorus of corpses.
Uliano, whose star quality began to emerge in last year’s “Black Comedy,” blazes brightly in this dark turn. His handsome Gomez is both salaciously in love with his wife and, oddly enough, endearingly paternal to his kids. If his songs are a bit pitchy at times — and his are not easy, melodic tunes— his voice is a very pleasing, strong baritone. There’s an urbane quality to Uliano’s vocal and body language as well that brings to mind Vincent Price at his sophisticated and dangerous best. As a couple, these two are the cats’, or maybe bats’, pajamas.
Claire Shaw and Finn Hansbury are also awfully wonderful as the children, the morose Wednesday and her the jealous little brother Pugsley. Shaw has, perhaps, the most difficult role in show playing a grown-up “bad seed” who is besotted with a “civilian” named Lucas from Ohio (an excellent Colby Bennoch). Somehow Shaw, who has yet another impressively powerful voice and stage presence, manages to find the bullseye both as a bloodthirsty cross bow hunter and a girl in love.
“I wanna treasure you in death as well as life,” she sweetly sings to her beau as she goes all William Tell on him, “I wanna cut you with my love and with my knife.”
And what a treasure we have in Finn Hansbury who plays Pugsley the tormented little brother who is afraid of losing his sister. This boy is a natural stage presence, who was clearly born to be in the spotlight. His song “What if” is a highlight of the show.
And then there are some unexpected scene stealers, especially Alex Shepard as Uncle Fester and Rawl Blackett as Grandma. Shepard, who is perhaps the creepiest looking of this creepy family, is also the sweetest and he melts the heart with his song “The Moon and Me.” And Blackett with her quirky vocal delivery is a hoot as the crazy old lady. Even the silent looming presence of Lurch (Winslow Jeffery) has a big moment.
Wednesday has arranged a dinner for Lucas’s parents, excellently sung and acted by Adam Christianson and Ashley Graves, and begs her family to act “normal” for just one night. But at the dinner, which is weirdly reminiscent of the Last Supper, it turns out that the “normal” couple from Ohio has a bit of a dark edge itself.
And have I mentioned the bunny hopping chorus of corpses? Oh, what fun they all are constantly kibitzing and flitting about amongst the living.
Marilee Marchese must have had such a blast costuming this show and throughout, little details she added just for the fun of it, appear to further amaze and delight.
After a bit of a squeaky start Saturday night, Catherine Forthofer’s pit orchestra settled into their task beautifully and never once overwhelmed the singers. Forthofer also worked wonders with the singers.
Hurrah also for the new sound system. While I have griped about use of microphones in the past, the sound from the principles’ headsets came from their mouths, not the theater’s wall speakers, and this was a huge improvement.
This show has a lot of dance numbers and the choreography by Tami Willis couldn’t be more fun, especially Morticia and Gomez’s sultry tango along with Moxie McBreairty, Dezirae Zaman, Molly Collins, Ollie Crawford, Lily Crikelair, Claire Sanner, Katrina Hardy, Mia Ray and Zack Zaman.
Carlene Hirsch’s set is gloomy fun, and Grey Burkart’s lighting effects manage to achieve plenty of illumination without losing the gloom.
And finally, big bravos to Frank Bachman for putting all these fine elements together and providing local audiences with such a horribly, wonderful evening of entertainment.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story omitted Zack Zaman from the tango ensemble. The Islander apologizes for the error.