Superb silliness

"The Addams Family" is gleefully ghoulish

The cult classic TV series featuring a cast of comically macabre characters hits the stage in "The Addams Family," the 2010 musical with book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Based on Charles Addams' original New Yorker cartoons and inspired by subsequent film adaptations, the musical version provides for plenty of zany hijinks and even a few stirring serenades. Palo Alto Players brings us a stylish, attractive production with an inspired, talented cast, delivering an excellent evening's entertainment.

The wacky but loveable members of the Addams clan possess various supernatural qualities and a love of dark arts, but they're not inherently evil -- in fact, they're generous and kind. The musical features Gomez Addams (Doug Santana), idle fun-loving head of the clan, his slender but shapely vampiric wife, Morticia (Betsy Kruse Craig), daughter Wednesday (Catherine Gloria) who is fond of spiders, and son Pugsley (Leo Jergovic), inventive and mischievous. Their family extends to Uncle Fester (Joey McDaniel), who can power a lightbulb with his mouth, Grandma (Linda Piccone), who can mix a potion for any purpose, and Lurch (David Murphy), the very tall, silent butler who resembles Frankenstein's monster.

The opening number brings forth many Addams ancestors for a family celebration, but before they can return to their crypt, Uncle Fester announces he is holding them hostage to help with a crisis: Wednesday is in love and wants to marry, and Fester worries that Gomez and Morticia won't approve -- the ancestors must aid a happy resolution. Wednesday privately reveals her plans to Gomez to marry her "normal" boyfriend, Lucas Beineke (Adam Cotugno), and makes her dad swear to keep it secret from Morticia for now. Wednesday also engineers an Addams dinner for Lucas and his oh-so-normal parents, Mal (Kennan Blehm) and Alice (Jen Wheatonfox). She pleads with her family to give her "One Normal Night."

Thus ensues much scheming and plotting by all involved, leading to a disastrous dinner, broken relationships, innermost secrets revealed, a daring crossbow stunt, a madcap tango and an ode to darkness. But it is, after all, a musical comedy; The Addams clan will set things straight in their own inimitable fashion.

The cast, including ensemble, is uniformly excellent. Santana as Gomez is the glue of the show, and his superb silliness is matched by his marvelous vocals. He's a bit in and out with the accent, but it doesn't matter -- he wins our sympathy and nails the humor. Craig is iconic as Morticia: an Amazon in black, deadpanning with the best of them. She shines in her songs, then burns up the stage with an astonishing tango; her dress "cut down to Venezuela" serves delicious double-duty as her dance costume. Gloria amazes as defiant, love-struck Wednesday, knocking it out of the house with "Pulled" and striking just the right balance between petulant and perky.

Pugsley blooms late, but when Jergovic belts out his plaintive "What If?," we're sold on this young performer's talent. Piccone milks the most humor possible from the character of Grandma, and McDaniel is positively luminous as Fester -- I'll not soon forget his bizarre but brilliant ballad to the moon. Murphy has the right stuff for Lurch, Wheatonfox has great comic chops and vocals in "Waiting," Blehm suddenly breaks out his skills in "Crazier Than You" and Cotugno serves delightfully as the heartthrob Lucas. The entire ensemble excels in high-energy dancing, canny cameos and surviving the show in heavy-duty makeup and elabroate costumes.

Despite some lags in the book, director Janie Scott keeps the show moving and the audience laughing. Ron Gasparinetti's scenic design creates numerous locales with admirable simplicity and notable ingenuity, aided by Carolyn Foot's lighting design that gives us more than one gorgeous moon. Pat Tyler manages the endless parade of props with her usual expertise and Shannon Maxham outdoes herself with extraordinary costuming; each ancestor's attire is unique and detailed enough to tell a story on its own. Shiboune Thill deserves mention for fabulous wig and makeup work; kudos also to director Scott for her double-duty as choreographer. Music Director Matthew Mattei leads a capable orchestra, but I would have preferred an unamplified pit to make it easier to hear the actors.

So many memorable moments in an entertaining evening of wacky fun -- give yourself a treat, and don't be too cool to clap along with the rest of the audience when the orchestra plays that familiar theme music.

What: "The Addams Family," a musical by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice, and Andrew Lippa, presented by Palo Alto Players

Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto.

When: Through May 10. Thursday, 7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Talk-backs with cast and director follow the show April 30 and May 7.

Cost: $16.50-$45.

Info: Go to paplayers.org or call 650-329-0891.

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