Sometimes you just have to bring in the big guns to wake up the near-dead – and in “The Addams Family,” of course, plenty of moribund creatures await to be stirred. That’s the way the late Charles Addams wanted it. For decades, he roused the family of ghoulish characters he’d created by forcing a dark humor on them that made them, in the confines of cartoon panels in The New Yorker, come very much alive.
But the big guns I’m referring to are not blasts from Addams’ arsenal of humor. Instead, I’m writing about Jeffrey Coon and Jennie Eisenhower, two of the region’s actors widely sought by artistic directors for their abilities to nail a variety of assignments. The stage musical of “The Addams Family” is a particularly tough one.
That characterization of the show, which is now playing in a production by Media Theatre, is not shared uniformly by audiences. When it opened on Broadway in 2010, “The Addams Family” was roundly pummeled by critics, but audiences took a liking to the show, which came to be called “critic proof.” It lasted more than a year and a half on Broadway, and while it may have been critic-proof its creative team didn’t think it was edit-proof – they crept into the Addams crypt and redid the show for its national tour.
That’s the version director-chorographer Dann Dunn is using at Media, and it’s cleaner and less disjointed than what I saw on Broadway – a musical that I thought then, and still think, sticks so close to a formula that it has nothing new, but does offer enough fun to make it a crowd pleaser.
Coon and Eisenhower give it a pleasing oomph. Coon plays Gomez, the befuddled husband of the household, with a nonchalant flair that makes the Spanish-accented character more than the stick figure in the script by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Eisenhower plays Morticia, the lady of the house, a thankless task because when the character’s not bleak, she’s sour. Yet every now and then, Eisenhower finds a way to flash through all that without disrupting Morticia’s basic dislikeability. Both Coon and Eisenhower give crystalline voices to Andrew Lippa’s workable music.
Nicholas Saverine is a wonderfully goofy Uncle Fester – his song about falling in love with the moon may be the best one in the show. Susan Wefel is the weird grandma and Kristine Fraelich shines as a potential Addams in-law who’s son (Jake Glassman, with a voice too subtle for the role when he sings) has his eye on the Addams’ daughter, Wednesday (Lauren Cupples). The Addams’ young son is played alternately by JD Triolo and Andrew Rubin, and Bill Vargus is the slow-as-molasses butler. The part of the potential father-in-law, if the Addamses give their blessing to a match between their strange Wednesday and his normal son, is played by Paul Weagraff.
All the Addamses are dressed in Xiachen Zhou’s appropriately ghostly costumes, which could have come straight out of the pen of Charles Addams – and these include a cast of ancestors who rise from the dead and are a zombie-like Greek chorus through much of the show. Troy Martin O’ Shia’s lighting design too often illuminates almost all, but not all, the people in a scene on Matthew Miller’s set.
“The Addams Family” a situation comedy on network TV for a couple of years, has a built-in problem as an elongated story: We get the point immediately that everything we hold as being good is, in the Addams value system, bad. So the plot here – about the happiness of the daughter, Wednesday, and about the happiness of her mother, Morticia — is illogical. If you’re an Addams, what do you care about happiness? Isn’t it a bad idea? Not to over-think the musical, but things are so much better when the premise follows through.
“The Addams Family” runs through Nov. 2 at the Media Theatre, State Street near N. Monroe Street, in Media. 610-891-0100 or www.mediatheatre.org.