BAR HARBOR — Zombies are doing the bunny hop around tombstones at the one end of the Mount Desert Island High School building.
Far, far away, in the Higgins-Demas Theater, techies are up in the rafters, hovering like gargoyles over more techies on stage working on rocket propulsion systems and intriguing lighting effects. A group of them is clustered around a large suit of armor, which they appear to be trying to figure out how to animate. To their right another group is on their knees painting trees.
Cables, computers, light boxes and other unrecognizable electronic gizmos clutter the stage.
Behind them, in the costume room, Marilee Marchese can be seen sorting out fabrics as she designs the perfect fall fashions in shades of death for those bunny hopping corpses.
Out in the hallway, a blue haired boy plays an eerie sounding metallic musical instrument — reminiscent of the spooky theremin, a staple of vintage scary movies. A young man with a neatly trimmed beard and a boxy pin striped jacket wheels by a Victorian fainting couch upon which lolls a lovely young woman in a scarlet, crushed velvet gown.
Welcome to the strange world of “The Addams Family,” the fall musical production, which will open here Nov. 9.
Director Frank Bachman sits in the front row of the audience watching his tech crew at work problem-solving and innovating.
It is all rather mesmerizing, watching colored lights create sparkly patterns on a blue panel, or iridescent flames shoot out of a handheld thingamajig. Bachman agrees that this tech rehearsal is a show all its own, of which future audiences will only see a fraction.
“There are some fun effects in this show,” he says, “some of them will be surprises and I won’t give them away here — and many are still works in progress.”
Glancing at a group gathered around the armor, Bachman says the students, with guidance from the tech director Gary Burkart, are given pretty free rein to figure it all out and come up with new ideas.
As a director he says it’s fun to be working on an entirely new show for MDI High School. Although it was not a big Broadway hit, the tunes from “The Addams Family” are catchy and clever and the plot, which involves an older incarnation of the oddball family than the one in the movie or original cartoons, has both the creep and the sweet factor.
“In this version Wednesday, the daughter, is getting married to a young man from a seemingly functional family from Ohio,” Bachman says.
In a sort of “La Cage aux Folles”-like twist, Wednesday pleads for her family — parents Gomez and Morticia, brother Pugsley, Cousin Itt, Uncle Fester and whatever Lurch is — to act “normal” for just one night but discovers there really is no such thing.
Senior Carolyn Graber, who plays Morticia, says she loves the role and has been watching the TV show episodes to prepare.
“Morticia has a very particular way of moving,” she says. “Even the way she stands and the way she folds her arms is iconic.” As she says this she wraps her arms across her chest with both hands, visibly resting on her forearms, and is immediately transformed into the elegant and aloof Morticia.
I didn’t ask if sophomore Zack Uliano grew his beard for the role of Gomez, but with a little styling into something a bit more gothic, it’s going to be great. When they pose for a picture Gomez lifts Morticia’s arm to his lips like a buttery ear of corn and it’s both creepy and sweet. In short, perfect.
Bachman says one of the big challenges directing the show has been getting a sense of the whole.
“It’s a very dance-intense production,” he explains. “So many scenes have dance numbers, which are being rehearsed separately. So, it’s been difficult to see, at this stage, how a particular scene will play out when it’s all put together.”
Despite this and a theater that looks something like an electronics graveyard, the director says he is confident.
“Yes, we’re at that place where it’s hard to imagine how it’s all going to come together” in a couple of weeks, he says. “But I know from working with these students on stage and back stage that it will. That it’s all going to be great.”
Audiences will have two weekends of chances to catch a performance, starting Friday Nov.9 at 7 p.m. Subsequent shows are scheduled for Nov. 10, 16 and 17 at 7 p.m., with matinees Nov. 11 and 17 at 2 p.m.