A familiar, fun and kooky Addams Family

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Michael Toscano

Toby’s Dinner Theatre is now staging The Addams Family, a musical based on the popular off-beat television show from the ’60s. Here, Pugsly (played by Gavin Willard) and Wednesday (MaryKate Brouillet) argue as their parents Morticia (Priscilla Cuellar) and Gomez (Lawrence B. Munsey) try to intervene.
Photo by Jeri Tidwell

The Addams Family musical, currently in mid-run at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, continues to confound critics and delight audiences. Critics generally don’t care much for the show, while audiences embrace it fully.

That’s not the case here, as both this critic and the audience are in sync. We love it.

OK, the material is a bit thin. Derivative, even. After all, the stage musical is inspired by the early ‘60s TV show, which was inspired by a series of one-panel, gently macabre cartoons in The New Yorker magazine, going back to 1938. And it follows a couple of theatrical film releases back in the ‘90s.

So the material has been worked over pretty well, and it didn’t start out as Eugene O’Neill or Stephen Sondheim. But Toby’s has found the sweet spot in this surprisingly sweet show.

The excellent cast, directed and choreographed by Mark Minnick, plays the material to the fullest, while simultaneously spoofing it and letting the audience in on the joke.

Along the way there are some pretty good tunes, contemporary in nature, some nostalgic nods to the TV show for the old folks, more than a few funny moments and a few poignant ones. So what’s not to like?

The show has been reworked since it first made its way to Broadway a few seasons back. So maybe it’s unfair to showcase how silly the first critics were. But, really, they went overboard.

Maybe they just didn’t want to see Nathan Lane, starring as Gomez Addams, or Bebe Neuwirth, as comely-but-pale Morticia, succeed. Ben Brantley of The New York Times, dean of the insular world of New York theatre critics, who seem only to talk to and write for each other, mightily complained in print that the show lacked internal logic. The others rushed into print with similar analyses, as if a show about a family that’s creepy and kooky, mysterious and ooky, needs internal logic. Some folks really need to get out more.

Audiences flocked to the show and made it a good-sized hit. Maybe the initial attraction was due to the recognition factor of the premise and fondness for the TV show. But that’s not enough to keep a show running on Broadway for a year-and-a-half, and almost always at 100-percent capacity, as this show did. It’s just a fun time, internally illogical or not.

And now Toby’s is having fun with it.

Wednesday as ingénue

Is there anyone among us unfamiliar with the Addams clan? No? Good. We can dispense with the long description. All the familiar people — zombies, scary butlers and disembodied hands, etc.  — are in place.

The only difference is that little Wednesday Addams (MaryKate Brouillet) is not a kid any longer. In the latter ingénue stage and ready to fall in love, she is now central to the story, rather than an afterthought.

Along comes Lucas Beineke (AJ Whittenberger), the ostensibly “normal” scion of a “normal” family. They are soon planning marriage. But like other star-crossed lovers, their families are obstacles. Each considers the other “strange.”

So we now have all the, er, peculiarities of the Addamses, and the peculiar-in-their-own-way Beinekes to contend with, along with the tale of young lovers being thwarted by their families, and a light-hearted look at just what normalcy might really be, if it even exists. Sounds logical enough to me.

Right at the top of the show, we get the first finger snaps and the punctuated notes from the TV show’s opening theme, so we know it’s going to be familiar and fun. One of the early treats is how much Lawrence B. Munsey looks like the Gomez Addams of the cartoons. He’s much less the sly patriarch as played by John Astin on TV.

Munsey gives Gomez just enough continental flair for color, but focuses on the emotional frailties of a father faced with having his daughter all grown up and leaving the nest. It could be maudlin in the wrong hands, but Munsey plays it with charm and comic zeal, saving us from too much of that darned internal logic.

In act two’s “Happy/Sad,” Munsey gets to fully explore the parental conundrum and the bittersweet quality that accompanies many of life’s most important moments.

In “Not Today,” Gomez seeks to redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter and wife after disappointing both of them. It’s a silly song, but as happens several times in this show — with book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and music and lyrics from Andrew Lippa — the sillier the song is, the more sophisticated the music is.

That gives the show some of its charm. It is ingratiating, and this critic, at least, can appreciate how clever that is.

A zesty Morticia

As always, Morticia is, forgive me, hot. Different from what we may have known before. But hot.

Priscilla Cuellar is not slender and ethereal like Carolyn Jones was on TV. She has other assets on full display here, and brings a Latin zest that fills the stage with energy.

One of my favorite moments is her work in act two’s “Just Around the Corner,” referring, of course, to death. She’s delightfully perverse in a zombie kick line, the catchy tune allowing a turn or two with the Grim Reaper. What fun!

When Cuellar and Munsey lead the company in the late number “Tango De Amor,” the sensual energy of the choreography, with lithe movement and throbbing rhythms, is perhaps the best on area stages this season.

Brouillet has a clear, full voice, shown to good measure in the act one rock-ish anthem “Pulled.” She’s a charming dynamo.

Act one ends with the company performing “Full Disclosure,” an innovative and powerful mix of light and darkness, pulsing tempo and high energy. The song pushes the slight story forward a few notches, with a bravura performance from Elizabeth Rayca as Lucas’ mother, Alice Beineke. This seemingly self-possessed and very straight lady (think Pat Nixon) lets her inner Addams out and rediscovers her youth.

Uncle Fester, too

There are many unusual moments. Imagine a bald man wearing something resembling a potato sack, on roller skates as he sings a love song to the moon, shown here as a painted beach ball, accompanied by a chorus of dead ancestors.

That’s Uncle Fester (Shawn Kettering), of course, deliberately delving a bit too deeply into saccharine sentiment and coming up with something oddly sweet, but not cloying. OK, so that’s not internally logical. But it works.

There are enough of those moments to let us glide over the trite story and enjoy a cast of actors, dancers and musicians entertaining us. There are double entendres and mildly suggestive jokes, but they should not scare you off from taking a teen or two along. They might even enjoy the music.

The Addams Family continues through April 19 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia.

The show runs seven days a week with evening and matinee performances. The doors open at 6 p.m. for dinner, preceding the evening shows Monday through Saturday, and at 5 p.m. for the Sunday evening performance. Doors open for brunch prior to matinee performances at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays and Sundays.

Following Toby’s varied all-you-can-eat buffet, the evening performances begin at 8 p.m. except Sundays, when the show starts at 7 p.m. Matinee performances begin at 12:30 p.m.

Reservations are required. Ticket prices range from $39.50 (for children under 12) to $58 (depending on which performance is selected). Ticket prices include the buffet and coffee or tea. Other drinks, including alcoholic ones, are extra, and you are expected to tip the waiter/actors, who rely on tips for much of their earnings.

There is ample, free parking on the premises.

For reservations and information, call (301) 596-6161, or visit www.tobysdinner theatre.com, where you can also obtain tickets via TicketMaster.