Dah Dah Dah Dum (Snap Snap)

Addams Family (Simi ARTS)userpic=theatre_musicalsTheatre is an interesting beast. You can take a single show, and present it in various size productions and interpretations. For example, you can take a musical and see it in a 4000 seat auditorium where you can barely see the actors, and remount it in a 300 seat theatre with different nuances, and then remount it in a 99 seat black box. Each venue requires the creative team to adapt to different actors, different capacities in terms of wings and scenery fly space, and drastically different budgets. These differences can totally change a show: I recall seeing an intimate theatre version of Gypsy that was just astounding, and that provided insight into different nuances of the story and the character. There are also different qualities of the actors, from AEA-trained touring actors, to non-AEA SAG/AFTRA actors (i.e., TV or movie), to community players, to students. Sometimes the AEA actors can be so-so, and the community actors can surprise you. Lastly (and this is important) a show that gets lukewarm — or even negative — reception on Broadway and in New York can be a hit out in the rest of the country, and have a long long life (and continue to make money for its authors).

We saw a show to which all of the above applies. The Addams Family: The Musical didn’t do spectacular on Broadway. It’s story was reworked to solve a number of problems, and the reworked show went out on tour. This is when we saw it, back in 2012, at the Pantages Theatre. A very large auditorium.  We enjoyed it quite a bit. When we learned that Actors Rep Theatre of Simi (Simi ARTS) (FB) was doing a production of Addams Family, we were intrigued. Simi ARTS is an interesting company: it is a community theatre, but often gets actors that have worked in TV, film, and in other smaller professional theatres. We have seen spectacular shows there; we’ve seen some that were a bit more clunky. But they all have their heart in the right place.

I’m pleased to say that this production of Addams Family is one of the best productions I’ve seen out of Simi ARTS. The cast was almost uniformly strong, with some spectacular voices and performances. If you stop reading here, just remember that this is a production that is worth seeing. Go to their website and get tickets (or go to Goldstar, as we did).

Here’s a quick synopsis of the show, from my 2012 review: The musical version of The Addams Family was not based on the television or the movies, although given that they drew upon the same characters, there are some commonalities. The musical, with book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and music/lyrics by Andrew Lippa, was based on characters from the original Charles Addams cartoons: Gomez, Morticia, Fester, Wednesday, Pugsley, Lurch, and Grandma (these characters were named for the TV show; they were unnamed in the cartoons). Now Addams stories usually take one of two forms: normal family visits the Addams and is shocked by the family, or the Addams have to appear normal to another family. In the original Broadway production, this was roughly the form of the story: Normal family of Wednesday’s boyfriend comes to visit, so the family needs to behave normally. Meanwhile, Morticia thinks she is getting old, family is shocked by the Addams, and Wednesday is pulled in different directions by love. You can read the original synopsis on Wikipedia. On Broadway, this didn’t work. The show was popular, but eviscerated by critics. Before the Broadway tour, the creative team decided to rework and tweak the story (ok, they decided to fix the show). They did, and I’m pleased to say is it much stronger. This entailed cutting some songs, a squid, and adding some new ones, so if you saw the show on Broadway, you should see it again.

When the show opens, the ghoulish Addams family is visiting the graveyard for an annual gathering of all family members (living, dead, and undecided) to celebrate what it is to be an Addams. Uncle Fester stops the Ancestors’ return to their graves to enlist their help: he knows that Wednesday is in love, and he wants love to conquer all. She has invited the boy’s family for dinner, and Fester wants it to be a success. We then learn that Gomez has built his relationship with Morticia on a foundation of never keeping secrets… after which Wednesday comes  and asks Gomez to keep a secret: she is engaged to this boy (Lucas Beineke). She doesn’t want her mother to know, so he must not tell her. This sets up the rest of the show: what is the effect of keeping this secret. While torturing Pugsley on a rack, Wednesday admits that love is pulling her in a new direction. As the Beinekes arrive, Wednesday and Lucas instruct their families to act normal so they can all enjoy a simple dinner. But the moment Lurch ushers the Beinekes into the mansion, tensions begin to mount. Mal wants to tear down the old house, Alice begins to spout happy poems at random, Pugsley, Fester, and Grandma fail at acting normal, and Wednesday, after wearing black for eighteen years, appears in a bright yellow dress. Morticia, realizing something is happening, believes Gomez is hiding a secret from him. Meanwhile, Pugsley is worried that Wednesday’s lovelife means she won’t torture him anymore. He steals a potion from Grandma after she reveals it will bring out someone’s dark nature. Pugsley plans to slip it to Wednesday at dinner. At dinner, “The Game” is played, where each person at the table confesses something. Gomez tells a story about not opening secrets in a box, while Uncle Fester admits he’s in love with the moon. In a mix-up, Alice drinks Pugsley’s potion and in front of everyone declares her marriage to Mal a loveless mess as she reveals her misery and woe. As Mal, humiliated, attempts to leave with his family, Wednesday announces that she and Lucas are engaged. Chaos engulfs both families, and Uncle Fester, trying to be helpful, instructs the Ancestors to create a sudden, terrible storm, trapping everyone in the mansion for the night. This is where the first act ends; I’ll leave the second act to you (noting that, after all, this is a musical).

As I pointed out in 2012, the reworked story worked a lot better. The musical numbers were, for the most part, quite entertaining (the music is still stuck in my head this morning–a good sign). A few numbers were a little bit slow, but most did a great job of moving along the plot, illustrating characters, and explaining motivations. Again, this was improved by the rework. It does appear that a few jokes were tweaked for current events, and they worked well. Rewatching it in 2015, about the only number that really doesn’t work is Fester’s love song to the moon. It is an excuse for special effects, but the entire sequence about Fester and the moon does nothing for the plot.

As I stated above, the cast (with one exception) was outstanding. In the lead positions were George Chavez II/FB as Gomez Addams and Kayla Bailey (FB (Music), FB) as Morticia Addams.  We’ve known George Chavez (and thus, he gets a first name reference 🙂 ) for years from his work at REP, and we have seen him grow in performance skills over the years. In many ways this is a perfect role for him, both for the humor, the attitude, and the way it exploits his singing and dancing skills. I thought he was great; my wife’s only comment was that his performance went down a notch when he was seemingly channeling Raul Julia — he was at his best when he was just being George and playing to George’s talents.  He was just great in all of his numbers. As for Bailey, she was a surprise. Just watch her face and listen to her voice on “Just Around The Corner” and you’ll be sold. I’ll note she was head and shoulders above the actress performing this role on the Broadway Tour, who had an odd vocal affectation.

The Addams children were portrayed by Natalia Vivino (FB) as Wednesday Addams and Bryce Phillips as Pugsley Addams. Vivino was a complete surprise, with a powerhouse voice and great performance skills. She just blew us away from her first notes in “Pulled”. Phillips was perhaps the one weak note: his acting skills were just fine, but the power of his voice just could not compete with the rest of the cast, turning what is likely a great voice in other situations to an also ran. Luckily, this is not a major problem in the show. [Edited to add: A comment from the actor clarified this may have been more an aspect of the direction of the song.]

Rounding out the Addams clan — at least the live ones — were Andrew Metzger (FB) as Uncle Fester, Carla Lombardo Bambo (FB) as Grandma, and Kevin Ellis/FB as Lurch.  Metzger was spectacular as Fester. Wild and crazy and playful and fun, completely unexpected and just great. He had a wonderful singing voice which he showed off in the one number I wasn’t crazy about (it was more how it slowed the show, not his performance, which was great).  Bambo has a much smaller role as Grandma, but her playfulness comes out in her “What If” number with Pugsley. As for Lurch, well, he doesn’t have that much to say or do until the end. When he does his thing,  it is unexpected and demonstrates a voice and a talent that is completely… wow.

The Beineke Family is portrayed by Colin Robert/FB as Lucas, and Lori Lee Gordon (FB) and Randle Rankin (FB) as Lucas’ parents, Alice and Mal.  Robert was a surprise, with some lovely performances with Vivino’s Wednesday. Gordon was a complete surprise, with a powerhouse voice and great stage presence, which came out in “Waiting” and “Crazier Than You”. She played well off of Rankin’s Mal.

Rounding out the players on stage were the ancestors: Constance Addams (FB) (Courtesan Ancestor); Oliver Skye Earley Anderson (Newsie Ancestor); Sage Ceilidh Earley Anderson (Child Star Ancestor, Cousin Itt); Augusto Guardado/FB (Dance Captain, Ancestor); Alissa Horner/FB (Ancestor); Caeli Molina (FB) (Saloon Girl Ancestor); Kelsey Nisbett (FB) (Ancestor); Ryan Schultze/FB (Soldier Ancestor); Emilie Schwarz (Sacagawea Ancestor); and Alexandra Vann (FB) (Ancestor Bride). This was an ensemble that was having fun: you can tell they were into their roles, they were having fun watching and being with the other actors on the stage, they were enjoying their songs. I love it when an ensemble has fun: this fun becomes contageous and just amplifies the audience. It is hard to single out particular ancestors for comments, but I liked the look of Horner, and I remember some good interplay and emotions from Molina and Vann.

The production was directed by David Daniels (FB), with choreography by Becky Castells (FB). The direction worked well to bring out the characters, and was particularly noticable in the ensemble, and the dampening of the emotion that would normally show (except if you are an Addams). The choreography worked reasonably well: one aspect of community theatre is that you have a much larger mix of dancing skills, and so some of the fancier stuff you might see with Broadway dancers you don’t see. This is not to say anything was bad — the dancing was quite enjoyable and did a great job of using the skills, talent, and space well.

The music was provided by a large orchestra under the music direction of Matt Park (FB), who was also on keyboards. Other orchestra members were: Richard Nevarez [Keyboard II]; Monica Minden (FB), Judy Garf (FB) [Violin]; Chris McCarty, Nancy Perillo/FB [Cello]; Mike Munson, Ron Munn [Reed I]; Paul Knaack, Janet Stuhr [Reed II]; Mel Bator, Rob Sack [Trumpet]; Keith Murphy, Brennan Park [Guitar]; Kevin Hart/FB [Bass]; Julene Jessel [Percussion]; Matt Jamele/FB [Drums]; Dave Uebersax/FB, Mark Baskin, Michael Vaughn, Larry Friedrich [Trombone].

Turning to the production and technical side. The set design was by David Daniels (FB) and Chris Slack/FB, and it worked reasonably well given the space constraints they are forced to live with. It was supplemented by projections (uncredited) and a wide variety of clever props (specialty prop design by Richard Hernandez/FB and Brenda Miller/FB; Miller and Jan Glasband (FB) are credited for the props themselves). The costumes, designed by Ken Patton (FB) and Genevieve Levin (FB) worked well for the characters, but basic black goes with everything. Morticia’s dress was spectacular. Sound design was by Seth Kamenow (FB), and I only have one complaint — and it is something you’ll rarely hear me say: the performers were a tad over-amplified for the space. Other than that, the sound was clear and the special effects were good. The lighting design by Julien Reux (FB) didn’t stand out, which was a good thing. Other significant production credits are: Megan Tisler (FB) [Stage Manager]; Brenda Goldstein/FB [Rehearsal Stage Manager]; Jan Glasband (FB) [Producer].

The Addams Family continues at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center (FB) through December 6. It is well worth seeing. Tickets are available through Actors Rep Theatre of Simi (Simi ARTS) (FB); discount tickets are available on Goldstar. You should also be aware of another concurrent activity of Actors Rep of Simi: the Nottingham Festival (FB), which brings a traditional Renaissance Faire back to Ventura County (where it all started). Nottingham runs two weekends: November 7-8 and November 14-15.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend sees us back in Simi for the Nottingham Festival (FB) on November 7. We then go out to Perris for “A Day Out with Thomas” at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) on November 11 (I can’t skip seeing my buddy Thomas and his friend Percy). The following week brings Deathtrap at REP East (FB) on November 14. The weekend before Thanksgiving I’m on my own. I picked up a postcard for “Timeshare”  at Eclectic Theatre Company (FB) while at the Colony for Best of Enemies, and it sounded so interesting I booked a ticket for November 21. The last weekend of November is currently open and will likely remain that way. December starts with High School Musical at Nobel Middle School (FB) (running December 1-4), followed by “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on December 5. During the week I become a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). The weekend after the conference is open. The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December is held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.



5 Replies to “Dah Dah Dah Dum (Snap Snap)”

    1. Any writeup — by a critic or a patron — is just one person’s opinion, and everyone can have different opinions. Bryce’s acting was fine, he just didn’t have the same powerhouse voice as the other performers. At least that’s the impression I got. Do I think it ultimately hurt the show? Not at all, and I still recommend it. I’m glad you enjoyed the show.

      P.S.: Many of the trained critics I’ve seen are often much harsher in their assessments than I. But I won’t claim to be more than I am: A cybersecurity specialist who attends a lot of theatre, and likes to tell my friends my impressions of what I see.

    2. I”ve been thinking about this a bit more, because your comment has been sticking in my head. When I wrote up this show, I agonized on how to address Bryce’s performance. On the one hand, he’s a kid — just trying to do his best in a community theatre production, and probably having a wonderful time. On the other hand, his singing voice just wasn’t as strong as those around him. I didn’t want to hurt his feeling, but I wanted to be honest. You can see the result in what I wrote up. I didn’t call him bad or rake a performance over the coals. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, considering that he had been in other productions and had been a soloist elsewhere, that his performance may just have been outshadowed by better performances.

      I think it is rare to have any performance (or anything in life) that can’t be continually improved. The corollary to that is that every performance has some weakness. That doesn’t make it bad. It just means there is something to work on in the next performance. By the way, that’s the joy of theatre: the performance on film, once bad, is always bad. A performance on the stage can vary from night to night, and so a reviewer’s opinion is of one performance at one show, and it could very well be that performance was an anomaly.

      In real life, I work somewhere where the emphasis is on mission success and integrity. These are values dear to me. I don’t take comp tickets; I buy every ticket to any show I go to (most reviewers can’t say that). I will also try to give honest and constructive opinions, not write just to entertain and tear down (which is what some reviewers do), or to be always effusive (again, which is some reviewers, who love to give meaningless rewards).

      As you can tell from this response, your comment did hit a nerve.

      The whole issue of reviewing theatre is a hard one. If you look at my post of a couple of weeks ago ( http://cahighways.org/wordpress/?p=10798 ), I included an article about reviewing community theatre. I wrote:

      An article in the On Stage Blog has prompted some interesting discussion. Its question: Should theatre reviewers review community theatre, and if they do, should they give an honest assessment? [ http://www.onstageblog.com/columns/2015/10/20/we-should-review-community-theater-productionshonestly ] A fascinating question: after all, these are not professional actors, so should we hold them to the same quality standards? They are often true amateurs, and the directors are equally amateurs. Personally, I tend to agree with the VC On Stage Blog [ http://vconstage.com/reviewing-community-theatre-are-the-gloves-off-or-on/ ]: I review honestly, but try more to couch my review as constructive criticism (how to improve, instead of “Bob stunck”).

  1. This is Bryce. I’m very honored to be part of this production. There are lots of talented people in it. Our director asked me to sing the song in a sad and melancholy way. I wasn’t trying to overshadow or be a bigger than life character, but rather a strange, sad, fat kid. I get the opportunity 3 times a week over the next few weeks to improve and sing better after every performance. I’m a soprano teenage boy…..that’s difficult to do. I’ve been juggling playing on a championship football team, and acting. The rehearsal and team practice schedule is brutal, but I’m having fun, and my agent thinks I’m fabulous. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that you may not think I was great, but I think I’m great. I can see why so many actors give up, or lose sight of their passion when they receive a bad review, but I will keep acting, playing football, going an auditions, making cd’s, and singing in movies because I love it. I may not be the type of actor you envisioned for this part, but it’s okay to agree to disagree (as my mom always says). So with that being said thank you for the great reviews on my fellow cast mates because they truly deserve it. I am blessed to be part of this wonderful production!!

    1. Thank you, Bryce, for commenting. I think you’re great as well. I’m in the audience because I don’t have the ability to get up on stage, and I always admire those who do. As you noted, there are factors that affect performance that the audience doesn’t know about it. So keep coming back and improving, and I’m confident that the performance I saw was just was received in an unexpected way.

      Shows improve as they go on. Earlier this year, I saw a production of Jesus Christ Superstar at REP East, a theatre that George frequents (as him about it — it’s a great place). It was the 2nd performance. It was one of the few REP shows where I just didn’t like it. I did my usual write-up, and REP let me know that after my writeup, they recast one character, swapped one character to a different role, and brought in live music. I came back for the last weekend, because I was curious. It had turned around to be a show that left me impressed.

      It was not my intent to give you a bad review — I really tried to state my opinion, but it a positive — benefit of the doubt — way. I think you’re doing a great performance job up there. Thank you for clarifying that what I might have been attributing to you may have really been the fault of the initial direction. I’m sure that by the end of the run, you’ll be knocking them dead (which is a very Addams thing to do).

      Hang in there, and I hope to see you in future productions.

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