‘The Addams Family’ was a scre-am.
Before one can appreciate the Gold Coast Little Theatre’s production of ‘The Addams Family’, it is necessary to briefly consider the show’s history. When it opened on Broadway in 2010, it was a critical flop but a financial success. Audiences couldn’t get enough, despite the plethora of negative reviews.
Looking at the production on paper, the negative reviews are understandable.
‘The Addams Family’ first appeared in single-panel cartoons in The New Yorker in 1938, which cartoonist Charles Addams used to satirise the values of the typical American nuclear family. The cartoons remain, to this day, funny. Through just an image and a single line, Addams manages to create a narrative depth that is amplified by what he doesn’t reveal. One classic panel, for example, involves the adults peering into the dilapidated yet decorated living room on Christmas Eve. “The little dears! They still believe in Santa Claus!” remarks the then-unnamed father to his wife, smiling warmly down at the children who are eagerly fanning the flames in the fireplace.
See? That’s still funny.
The problem the Addams franchise has always had, however, is that these single panels do not make a script. The charm of the original cartoons was in their simplicity and stretching this into several seasons of a television series created something corny that can be forgiven only because it happened in the 60s.
And herein lies the musical’s fundamental flaw. Inverting typical family activities to make them ‘creepy’ is not a lot to work with. Combine this with the threadbare plot (a low-stakes ‘La Cage Aux Folles’) and those original Broadway reviews make a lot of sense.
Luckily for the original production, however, it’s leads – musical theatre powerhouses Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth – could sell anything. They milked the humour from the humourless lines and gave performances that made audiences salivate.
Happily, the Gold Coast Little Theatre production, directed by Jay Ahrens and Susan Austin, has also managed this feat. The cast, against all odds, makes this show work.
Scratch that. They make this show soar.
Daniel O’Connell as Gomez is a comedic tour de force. He articulates every beat and moment with such comic sincerity that even a reading of the phonebook with his nuanced and precise timing would be almost worth the price of admission. He not only carries the show, but he bends the script to his will. It’s mesmerising.
As his daughter Wednesday (a young adult in the stage incarnation of the family), Chloe Smith does more than simply hold her own. The script probably gives her the most to work with character-wise, and this has not been wasted on Smith. Her interpretation is deep and considered, and she beguiles the audience with her unique juxtaposition of dour misery and bubbly optimism from start to finish.
As Morticia, Cat Deller brings vocal power and movement skills that add a layer to the show that would be entirely missing without her. She is a testament to the tight work of Musical Director Taylor Holmes and Choreographer Jo De Goldi, both of whom have excelled.
George Pulley’s Fester is a charming introvert. It’s a different take on the character that works well. As the quasi-narrator of the proceedings, his connection with the audience is paramount and his natural likeability ensures his success.
As Grandma and Lurch, Kara Holdom and Lawrie Esmond prove that old adage about small parts and small actors. Esmond, in particular, has such gravity that it wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up a favourite of most audiences.
The cast are supported by an ensemble of the family’s ancestors, each representing a different historical time period. This small chorus contributes massively to the overall atmosphere and are each fully realised. They are a lot of fun to watch, especially the captivating Lara Salamacha as a Big Game Hunter from the Victorian Era.
As stellar as the performances are, a few staging issues detract from the fluidity of the production. The set is unnecessarily realistic (a pity, given how creative the Addams aesthetic could otherwise be) which is incongruous with the choice to place the actors in the middle of the audience in several scenes.
With such vague parameters governing the style and conventions at play, there is little cohesion and these moments of non-naturalism are disorientating, leaving the audience to recalibrate each time a scene takes place outside of the family living room.
The costumes and wigs more than makeup for any consistency issues. These are really first-rate – beyond what audiences can reasonably expect from a community theatre. They are slick and professional, and with a level of attention to detail that is a credit to the work of Costume Designer Shirley Whitehouse and Wig Designer Ann-Britt Riget.
‘The Addams Family’ at the Gold Coast Little Theatre is a genuinely enjoyable experience. Even the most reluctant audience members will find themselves unable to resist the charm of these performances.
‘The Addams Family’ runs at the Gold Coast Little Theatre until Saturday, 28 September 2019. Tickets are available at Gold Coast Little Theatres Website.