Review – The Addams Family, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 10th May 2017

The Addams FamilyWhen you think back to The Addams Family, in what year, would you say, did they first appear? No Googling now. No, you’re wrong. They actually first appeared in print cartoon form way back in 1938. The TV series started in 1964 – the very same week that “rivals” The Munsters started; The Addams Family beat them by six days. Since then, we’ve all more or less forgotten about the Munsters. But The Addams Family has been kept alive by a series of films, and in 2010 this stage musical appeared on Broadway, where it did pretty well, running for twenty months. Since then it’s toured all over the world, but this production, by those nice people at Music and Lyrics, is the first time it’s hit the UK.

The castIt’s a fairly simple, and maybe surprisingly moral, story. The Addams Family, who delight in the ghoulish, and wear the macabre on their sleeve as though it were from Tiffany’s, are having their annual meeting of their ghostly ancestors because that’s what happens when you’re an Addams. Young Wednesday Addams has been seeing a “normal” boy – Lucas – and they want to get married, but Wednesday knows her parents are going to be a problem. Lucas and his parents are coming around for dinner, in the hope that they all get along swimmingly so that Wednesday and Lucas can announce their engagement. Unknown to the rest of the family, Uncle Fester has refused to let the ghostly ancestors (remember them?) depart back into their own world until they help him ensure that Wednesday and Lucas get married. Lucas’ dad is an intolerant Conservative (with a Large C) and his mum is a mousey little thing and they’re both way out of their comfort zone at the Addams Family estate. Gomez really only wants to see Wednesday happy, but will Morticia come to terms with a) her daughter marrying a “normal” boy and b) the family withholding secrets from her?

Gomez and MorticiaNo question, this is a terrific production. It looks thoroughly gorgeous. The costumes, the lighting, the set are all totally spot on. The way the cast have been dressed and made up to look like the original characters is absolutely extraordinary. It’s like the 60s never went away. Alistair David’s choreography is slick and evocative; Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book (they also wrote Jersey Boys) is funny and smart – although I thought our audience on Wednesday evening responded fairly feebly to it, at times I thought it was only Mrs Chrisparkle and me who were understanding the jokes! Andrew Hilton and his eight-piece orchestra filled the theatre with rich, solid, lively sounds. Andrew Lippa’s score includes a few great show toons – Full Disclosure, Just Around the Corner, Happy Sad, and (my favourite) Crazier Than You.

Morticia and the spiritsAbove all, every member of the cast absolutely gives it everything they’ve got. Cameron Blakely’s Gomez is riveting throughout. Chucking every Flamenco/Spanish idiosyncrasy at it that he can, his physical comedy is brilliant and his range of vocal expressions are just hilarious. He’s a perfect blend of caring family man and total smartarse. I’ve seen Mr Blakely a couple of times before and he has rather specialised in being the best thing in some iffy productions, so it’s great to see him leading a total success for a change! Samantha Womack is also brilliant as Morticia, absolutely capturing that elegant but mournful look, delivering all the comic material with a knowing charm, and of course she absolutely excels in the musical numbers. I’m still upset that she doesn’t include her Eurovision appearance in her programme bio, though; you really shouldn’t be ashamed of being chosen to represent your country. Carrie Hope Fletcher is superb as the lovelorn Wednesday, coming to terms with becoming a woman yet still wanting to torture your kid brother; and Les Dennis is totally unrecognisable – and extremely convincing – as Uncle Fester, part narrator, part moral guide, part weirdo.

Grandma and FesterDale Rapley – the excellent Horace Vandergelder to Janie Dee’s Hello Dolly a few years ago – is delightfully pigheaded as the very Ohio Mal Beineke, and Charlotte Page’s Alice Beineke is a wonderful creation; the talking Hallmark greeting card who regains her mojo in a subplot that owes a lot to Rocky Horror. Dickon Gough cuts an immaculately gloomy figure as the grunting Lurch (one of the best curtain call moments for a long time), Grant McIntyre conveys a splendidly spoilt Pugsley, Valda Aviks a suitably batty Grandma and Oliver Ormson stands out as the one and only uncomplicated character as the somewhat hopeless and hapless Lucas.

Fester, Morticia, Pugsley and WednesdayCriticisms? If you think about it, the ghostly ancestors play absolutely no dramatic role at all, although they do serve as a background chorus line to pad out the big numbers. And I really didn’t understand Fester’s obsession with the Moon. I sensed that I should have enjoyed his romantic number with this celestial being much more than I did, and that his final departure was probably meant to be hysterical – it passed me by, I’m afraid. Still, none of that gets in the way of a very enjoyable night out. We’re not talking serious messages here; there are no social issues to get your teeth into on the way back home. Just straightforward entertainment, expertly done. The tour visits every part of the UK between now and November, and it’s a fun, family show you’d be hard-pressed not to enjoy.

Production photos by Matt Martin

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