If I say The Addams Family, chances are you will reply by snapping your fingers, right? Cartoon characters Morticia, Gomez, the zombie butler, the mop with a ukulele - all are not only familiar parts of American humor, but it turns out that they can be pretty fun folks to watch on stage.
This week, that stage is at Canterbury High School, where whatzup-land's own high school all-stars kick over the gravestones to put on a show that is, as the TV show theme used to say, creepy and kooky. It may even be all together ooky, which I've always assumed is a good thing.
Featuring outstanding performers from 20 Indiana and Ohio schools ranging from colleges to middle schools and even the K-12 Online School, the Fort Wayne Summer Musical Theatre program's executive director, Kirby Volz, and assistant director, Andrew Sherman, don't shy away from unusual shows. This one is a hoot, with topical humor popping up in a funny, tuneful show that draws a little from the TV version and more from the New Yorker cartoons about the famously eccentric clan. The plot is a transparent girl-meets-boy affair, but as with many Broadway hit shows these days, how they get to a happy ending takes several wildly silly turns.
Musically, don't expect to have heard any of these songs on your Pandora playlist. Ones that stuck with me can give you a little taste of the "vibe" of the show - "One Normal Night," "Secrets," "Crazier Than You," and "Not Today." Not only is the cast full of good singers, but Choreographer Leslie Beauchamp has converted a Walking Dead-type ensemble into a Danse Macabre troupe with good humorous results.
Atticus Bennett shines as Gomez Addams, with a Spanish/Transylvanian accent perfect for the host with the most ghosts. The object of his passion, the death-obsessed Morticia, is played by Kaylee McCullar delightfully, as if June Cleaver traded the beads and sweater for skulls and crossbones. Janae Jeran as Wednesday Addams really is perfect, drawing not only from the cartoon's deadpan daughter but a solid dose of the mopey daughter from the movie Beetlejuice. Mason Brindle as Pugsley Addams is cute and slightly menacing, with one of the best high-pitched screams around. Jason Wendt as Fester Addams comes close to stealing the show, all giggles and clowning about love and ghosts. Zara McCord as Grandma Addams, and Dylan Record as Lurch Addams also carry their parts with style. The foils for Addams' unusual tastes are the Beinekes of Ohio, charmingly played by Daniel Moser as Lucas Beineke, Holden Davenport as his dad, Mal, and Gwenyth Baer as his mom, Alice. It will come as no surprise to you that normality ultimately proves to be rarer than a blue moon by the time the Beineke visit is ended.
It continues to baffle me as to why Fort Wayne theater organizations avoid the wonderful musical theater tradition of the pre-show orchestra warmup. We audience members get excited to hear the tuning, trills and phrases from the pit as we filter in, and it's a quick signal to get quiet when the warm-up ends and the welcoming director steps forward. Opening night, that warm up and tuning would have really helped. Music Director Ben Wedler led the orchestra, with Jill Jeran on Keyboard, Ronny Record on drums, Ian Blair and Kellen Baker on guitar, Alyssa Roesheck and Scott Roesheck on reeds, Joshua Bennett on bass guitar, Samuel Scheele on cello and trombone and Patrick Bassett on violin.
Featured Ancestors include Dallas Sherman, Donavan Stone, Evan Snaufer, Will Francis, Gabrielle Smith, Natalie Chivers, Chali Moss, Gilliam Lintz, Toriana Simoes, and Ally Crumley. An additional ensemble includes Anthony D'Virgilio, Lydia Roop, Sean Findley, Frances Bennett, Jasmin Burton, Annika Lantz, Kate Stumph, Piper Reneau, Emma Bennett, Clarice Scheele, Olivia Spangle, Savannah Strack, Izzy Copeland, Karlie Flanagan, Jaci Perales, Diana Zaldivar and Jordyn Hanni.
Visually, the setting and staging were clever and well-detailed. Credit goes to Set Design & Technical Director Joe Crouch and Stage Manager Morgan Thomas, Lighting Designer Jacob Zeigler, Sound Designer Darren Kessler, Costume coordinators Daniel Meredith and Anya Gouloff and their backstage crews.
In addition to supporting the Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre, patrons are invited to bid on a silent auction and give free-will donations for the venerable Broadway Cares, a theatrical organization that raises money for AIDS-related causes, Volz said, which has earned the FWSMT accolades for raising more money for Broadway Cares than any other student group in the nation.