FORT WASHINGTON – Cultural historian Martin Grams’ Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in September in Hunt Valley, Maryland was an enjoyable early excursion into Halloween fare, with vintage campy monster movies and a production of “Ghost Party,” a recreation of a long-lost séance-themed episode from the cult radio horror series “Lights Out.”
One could also purchase Christmas ornaments featuring the Addams Family, the delightfully creepy and comedic American cartoon family known for off-kilter macabre humor and supernatural satire.
More deliciously creepy Addams nostalgia, with a modern twist, can be found at Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington through Sept. 30, “The Addams Family” is being staged as a “New Musical Comedy” by the Tantallon Community Players. The show, written in 2009, takes its inspiration not so much from the popular black-and-white television series of the 1960s, but more from the original and now legendary New Yorker cartoon series of Charles Addams.
Like the beloved TV show and film series, however, this production uses the unique Addams lens to examine the social concerns of the present day. The plot revolves around two interests: the daughter, Wednesday Addams, is now grown up and ready for love and marriage, but her parents, Morticia and Gomez, do not approve of the union, in part due to cultural differences with the extraordinarily middle-American family of the would-be groom. At the same time, there is dissension within Gomez and Morticia’s own marriage, which itself could be on the verge of dissolving.
Directed and choreographed by Jonathan Jackson, the production is excellent. As already implied, Wednesday Addams is more front and center than in most Addams Family offerings; she is well-portrayed by Jayne Saxon Zirkle with Gothic looks and powerful voice in songs such as “Pulled” and “Crazier Than You.” Similarly, Wednesday’s mother Morticia is portrayed in all her troubled sensual beauty by Nina Jankowicz, particularly as she rhapsodically sings “Death Is Just Around the Corner.” She and Gomez (played by Keith Flores) also share a standout scene dancing to “Tango de Amor;” here Morticia even playfully sports a rose in her mouth – with the bloom clipped off, of course, Addams Family style!
True to Addams Family form, parts of the production are very topical; for example, Gomez objects to his would-be in-laws because they are from Ohio, “a swing state!” Indeed, large portions of the show can be read as a comedic allegory concerning intercultural marriage. There are also nods to other icons of both low-brow and high-brow culture. Reference is made to “The Honeymooners” TV show (as in “To the moon, Alice!”). Classical allusions abound as well, including lovers such as Romeo and Tristan. Musically speaking, Uncle Fester’s big number (“The Moon and Me”) is framed by musical phrases from Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Little wonder that Morticia and Gomez’s young son, Pugsley Addams (Jackson Parlante), says in frustration, “I don’t understand your references!”
The musical direction, under Paul Rossen, is superb. In addition to show-stopping Broadway music, the rhythms of mambo, the twist and the bunny hop are played to perfection by the live orchestra of 12 pieces. The make-up is also excellent, especially when at one point Addams ancestors emerge from their crypt – though this might be scary for young children. The production may remind some of Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride,” especially as Uncle Fester calls forth graveyard ghouls to ensure that Goth-bride Wednesday’s new love relationship proceeds well.
If there is any weakness to this excellent show, it may be the props – especially the trees – which sometimes seem reminiscent of having been painted for a grade-school production. While these may have been intended to add to the humorous atmosphere, to this reviewer’s eyes minimalist props or a few potted trees would have been preferable. On the other hand, there is an impressive prop or two: Thing, the Addams’ famous free-roaming disembodied hand, does appear, at one point crawling speedily and effortlessly across the floor!
A comedy is always more enjoyable when the audience is strikingly enthusiastic about the show; indeed, this was the most exuberant audience in recent memory. Sadly, the show only runs through Sept. 30 rather than until Halloween proper, so intended audiences are strongly advised to see this excellent production soon!