A curious cartoon by Charles Addams appeared in The New Yorker on April 6, 1938. In the single-panel drawing, a witchy woman in a low-cut, Gothic black dress and a tall butler resembling a Cro-Magnon man listened to a traveling vacuum salesman’s pitch in a crumbling, cobwebbed house.
Over the years, Addams grew the cast of characters, but it wasn’t until The Addams Family came to ABC in 1964 (the same year CBS debuted The Munsters) that the clan was given names. Since then, Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester, Grandma and Lurch have persevered, lending themselves to other television iterations (both live-action and animated), films (theatrical and direct-to-video) and a 2010 Broadway musical comedy starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as the Addams parents.
This latest edition opens the Asheville Community Theatre’s 69th season on Friday, Oct. 3, and runs through Oct. 26, a time of year that director Jerry Crouch feels is especially appropriate to carry on the macabre ensemble’s legacy. “I think the enduring fascination with the Addams Family franchise is because of the public’s fascination with a family who, while not traditional in looks or dress or lifestyle, respects family values and instills a sense of family history and respect in their children,” he says.
ACT is always looking for shows that will bring in fresh new audiences, but when The Addams Family became available, the theater’s 2013 production of Spamalot hadn’t opened, and there was uncertainty as to how its brand of humor would go over with audiences. The Monty Python musical wound up being a huge hit, and since The Addams Family brings a similar comedy style and cult following — plus the high volume of “likes” for anything Addams-related that Crouch has posted on his Facebook page — the director predicts another winner.
With a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party), the Broadway production was tweaked when the musical went on tour. The latter licensed version, which features four songs in place of a quartet sung by the original cast, is what the ACT cast will undertake, though Crouch has changed the time frame from the nebulous “this autumn night” to “this Halloween night,” adding a new layer of eerie fun to an already vibrant tale.
In the musical, Wednesday (played by Asheville School senior Mary Chamberlain Harlan) falls in love with “normal” boy Lucas Beineke (Roberson High student David Fine, whom Crouch calls “a fabulous young performer”). Poised to marry this Ohioan, she arranges for her paramour and his parents, Mal and Alice (real-life sweethearts Mike Yow and Karen Covington, recent transplants from the Atlanta theater scene), to visit the Addams home and meet her parents (ACT veterans Bradshaw Call and Rachelle Roberts, playing off one another for the first time).
Read a review of the show here.
An original story not linked to a specific past Addams narrative, this classic “guess who’s coming to dinner” comedy nevertheless rings true to a recurring situation familiar to the family. “In the TV show, there were always normal people showing up and this juxtaposition of a wild and crazy, off-center family against normal people,” Crouch says.
As for the music, the iconic snaps from Vic Mezzy’s theme song to the original TV series are heard at the start of the overture before giving way to opening number “When You’re an Addams” and distinct musical styles for the main characters. Gomez’s songs have a Latin flavor, Morticia’s have a dance swing beat, Wednesday’s and Lucas’ duets have a strong rock influence and selections for Uncle Fester (Drew Emanuele, returning to ACT musicals after a long absence) have a comic, vaudevillian tone. “The music is very hard to sing. It doesn’t sound like it, but it’s full of harmony,” says Crouch, known as “Mr. Musical” for handling ACT’s major productions over the past 14 years (e.g. Cabaret, Hairspray and Chicago).
Forming the chorus is a collection of Addams ancestors who’ve come back from the crypt. Under the spell of Fester, who serves in a master of ceremonies role, they’re charged with helping him get the young lovers married and threatened with walking the earth for eternity should they fail.
Setting himself up for success, Crouch is surrounded by past collaborators not only in the cast but also behind the scenes. He’s working once more with set designer Jill Summers, costume manager Deborah Austin, choreographer Tina Pisano-Foor and musical director Anne Rhymer Schwabland. Should the show’s run go as well as rehearsals have indicated, look for this team to persist like the Addamses themselves.
WHAT: The Addams Family.
WHERE: Asheville Community Theatre, ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Oct. 3-26, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. $25 adults, $22 seniors and students, $15 children.