Chicago Theatre Review
Moving Toward the Darkness
The Addams Family – Mercury Theatre
The sizzling sound you hear is all the artistry that burns within Mercury Theater’s creative team. This includes director, L. Walter Stearns, musical director, Eugene Dizon and choreographer, Brenda Didier, who simply get better and better with every production. In this less lavish, but slickly produced, well-cast, directed and choreographed production, Mercury Theater’s latest offering buries the Broadway production. The show features a variety of very funny, deliciously spooky characters involved in a family story that’ll ring true for many.
The musical, based upon the humorously macabre, single-panel cartoons of artist Charles Addams, sports a book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys,” “Peter and the Starcatcher”), with a score composed by the talented Andrew Lippa (“Big Fish,” “Wild Party”). A much heralded pre-Broadway production opened in Chicago four years ago to mixed reviews. It went on to New York where, despite its star-studded cast and some major rewrites, the critical reception wasn’t much better. Because theatergoers were eager to see Addams’ beloved characters brought to life on stage, the musical overcame poor criticism and became a popular audience draw. When a smarter, revised version of the musical toured nationally, eventually playing Chicago once again, audiences who had been previously disappointed with the original production welcomed a show that redirected its focus from its stars to the Charles Addams’ characters, where it belonged. This has become the accepted licensed version of the show, which the Mercury Theater has given a Chicago must-see staging.
To begin with, this production boasts an ensemble that overflows with talent. Six astonishing Addams Family Ancestors, fresh from the grave, fill the stage with their devilish glee and choreographic finesse. These excellent singer/dancers (Sarah Hayes, Leah Morrow, Lucy Zukaitis, Jared Rein, Alexander Walker, and the elastic Sawyer Smith) not only perform with flair and athleticism, but look fantastic, thanks to Frances Maggio, Glenese Hand and Karen Berger-Notle, for their combined creativity in costuming, makeup, wig and hair design. The eerie look for the show continues with Bob Knuth’s stylish, magical sets, which transform easily from Victorian mansion to family graveyard, and Nick Belley’s moody lighting plot. Under Eugene Dizon’s expert musical direction, Michael Kaish’s six-member backstage orchestra perfectly balances with and complements the voices of this 16-member cast. And Brenda Didier’s choreography is some of the best work she’s ever done. She challenges her cast with moves that are strapping and robust, while at the same time, lyrical and filled with grace.
The leading roles are performed solidly with humor and precise musicality. Karl Hamilton, looking as if he’s having a ball as the hotblooded Latin, Gomez Addams, has never been better. He showcases perfect comic timing while singing, dancing and cracking jokes with childlike delight. Songs like “When You’re an Addams,” “Happily Sad” and “Not Today” demonstrate Mr. Hamilton’s musical versatility and trained vocal dexterity. He’s balanced nicely by Rebecca Prescott’s sultry, seductive Morticia Addams. Her execution of “Secrets,” with Cory Goodrich, and “Just Around the Corner” and “Tango De Amor” with Mr. Hamilton are great fun. These two are matched by Harter Clingman’s superb performance as jovial, but timelessly wise Uncle Fester. Mr. Clingman possesses a brilliant, comic talent, along with a strong, polished singing voice, featured in songs like “Let’s Not Talk About Anything Else But Love” and the poignant “The Moon and Me.” Amanda Hartley’s wonderfully bawdy Grandmama is hilarious, and proves she can belt out a tune with the best of them. Jeff Diebold’s very funny family butler, Lurch, is part Frankenstein’s Monster, part Jack Benny.
Lovely Dara Cameron, often cast as homesick moppet from Kansas or a pretty, perky Disney princess, nicely plays against type here as the dark and somber Wednesday Addams. As a young lady experiencing her first pangs of love and desire, Ms. Cameron’s Wednesday truly proves to be Gomez’s daughter. Conflicted by feelings that evoke butterflies and songbirds, Ms. Cameron’s hilarious “Pulled (in the Wrong Direction)” is only one of her many standout musical moments.
As Lucas Beineke, Wednesday’s nerdy young love interest, Henry McGinniss is appealing strong, handsome and an excellent singer. Their “Crazier Than You,” sung with Cory Goodrich and Jason Grimm, as his parents Alice and Mal Beineke, is one more highlight of this score. Ms. Goodrich shows off her comic chops, going from conservative matron to sexy, red-hot mama (thanks to a misdirected magic potion) in her song “Waiting.” Jason Grimm does a fine job in his role as an uptight husband and father, for whom life has turned all too serious. Brennan Dougherty is appealing as Pugsley Addams, Wednesday’s jealous younger brother and her favorite victim of torture.
L. Walter Stearns has really risen to the occasion with this show as director. Moving his cast over, around and through the intimate Mercury Theater, he’s wisely kept his production on the modest side, while carefully mining every ounce of comedy, both from the libretto and from within his stellar cast. Mr. Stearns doesn’t waste any of the talent bursting from his 16 triple-threats, yet he’s kept his production profoundly honest, visceral and immediate. In the end, this musical is simply a warm, very funny story of a family coping with change and their oldest child’s growing pains. The only difference is that this family finds most of its happiness when they “Move Toward the Darkness.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 28-April 5 by Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-325-1700 or by going to www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.