By PAM HARBAUGH
Although the musical “The Addams Family” may feel new to contemporary audiences at Titusville Playhouse, where it runs through Oct. 15, the show has elements dating back to the 1930s.
Based on Charles Addams’ witty and macabre cartoons which appeared in The New Yorker magazine, “The Addams Family” catapulted into mainstream popularity with the 1960s black and white television series. It starred John Astin as Gomez, the head of the wealth family and married to Morticia, a slinky delight played by Carolyn Jones.
Of its many iterations since then, the most popular was the 1991 film starred Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston and Christina Ricci. A musical stage version starring Broadway luminaries Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth opened in 2010 but was widely panned by critics.
The show was re-tooled for touring and regional productions, which is the version currently prompting Titusville Playhouse audiences to “snap-snap” their fingers in time with the familiar music from the ‘60s TV show – even before the curtain rises. And when it does rise, audiences are greeted with a family portrait, as it were, of the Addams standing in front of an ominous looking gate – foreboding enough to keep people out, or keep people in.
“People go wild,” said director Niko Stamos. “You forget how much the music is ingrained in memory. The first few notes of the show causes an almost instinctual reaction.”
That reaction is “always encouraging,” said Kirk Simpson, a 17 year old who travels from from Mount Dora, FL to play the role of Lucas.
“When I hear the audience laugh at the jokes or clap and cheer after a song, it reminds me why I do theater in the first place,” he said. “And it makes me want to put on an even better show for them.”
Professional actor Brance Cornelius, who plays Uncle Fester, agrees.
“I get goose bumps when the opening strains of the theme open the show and the audience begins to snap snap along,” he said. “Audiences are loving it. Several people have have approached us after the show and told us how long they’ve waited to see this show. ‘Addams Family’ fans have come out of the woodwork to support the show.”
Set amidst a bevvy of gleeful undead haunting a nearby cemetery, the story revolves around young Wednesday Addams falling in love with Lucas, a “normal” young man. She confides in her father, Gomez, who tries to hide the fact from her mother, Morticia. The young man and his parents are eventually invited to the Addams’ bizarre home where a “remarkable” meal is served in “remarkable” fashion.
Here, Stamos returns to Addams’ original cartoon aesthetic. Although they would not really hurt anyone, the family has a forbidding air about them. As the theme song states: “They’re creepy and they’re kooky, Mysterious and spooky, They’re all together ooky…”
Stamos asked Jonathan Willis to create paintings based on the original cartoons. Although he designed most of the show’s costumes himself, when it came to Morticia’s slinky dress, Stamos turned to Orlando costume designer Skip Stewart, who has designed for cruise ship shows.
Inspired by the Broadway production, Stamos asked scenic designer Jay Bleakney to design a large gate for the show’s opening. It ended up over 16 feet tall. And, given the limited space above TPI’s stage — there is no real “fly space” which allows scenery to be securely raised and stored unseen over the stage – that gate needs to be tracked on and off and squeezed into the cramped quarters at the sides of the stage.
“We put our own stamp on something people have seen or have expectations for,” Stamos said. “But we also have a few tricks up our sleeve which have caused audible reactions. It’s surprising.”
The rest of the cast features Alexander Nathan as sexy Latin lover Gomez, who does a romantic tango with Morticia, played by Alejandra Martinez.
Kiernan O’Connor is dismal Wednesday who tortures her happily obliging younger brother, Pugsley, played by Kapp McCallister. Marcy Szymanski is Grandmama, Joe Rose is the growling Lurch.
Willis is Lucas’ stodgy father, Mal, and Kristen Sellers is Alice, his square mother who has her day in the musical number “Waiting.”
Already, tickets are becoming scarce because quite a few patrons who have seen the show are coming back for more, Stamos said.
“One woman called and said she wasn’t planning on coming back, but her granddaughter wanted to bring a friend,” he said. “They enjoyed the show so much they had to come back.”
“The Addams Family” runs through Oct. 15 at Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia St., Titusville. It performs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. An additional show begins 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12. Tickets begin at $23. Call 321-268-1125, visit TitusvillePlayhouse.com or click on their ad.
This is an edited version of a story running next week in the Melbourne Beachsider.