From the outside, the Old Theatre located next to The Commons appears to be entirely normal, but within an evening of ghoulish entertainment is in store. Presented by UMBC’s Musical Theatre Club, “The Addams Family” musical brings a peculiar life to the theater, despite the decorative gravestones that litter the stage and spout standard phrases such as “RIP” and “Here Lies Good Old Fred.” A gnarled tree devoid of leaves and color looms over the entire performance, with an ornate door at the center. Other decorations – walls, chairs, tables and more doors – are rolled on and off the stage throughout the entire production.
It’s a sold-out performance, with a diverse audience filled with students and the general public – all of whom erupt with giddy applause as the lights dim and a pale, shaking hand emerges from behind the door in the twisted tree and begins the trademark “Addams Family” Ba-Da-Da-Dum (Snap Snap).
It is this nostalgic mentality that carries most of the musical, which is mostly lacking in plot. Almost every joke relies heavily on the audience being familiar with the original “Addams Family” and while this could have easily worked in the play’s favor – it is a rare American that is not familiar with the morbid little clan – it begins to come across as too cartoonish and distracts from the glaring imperfections in writing.
The story seemed to want to pay tribute to the source material, yet for all of the reference and elbow-nudges towards to audience, there were plenty of changes made that made no real contribution to the narrative. The Addams family homestead is located in the middle of Central Park – perhaps as a commentary of the strangeness of the New York lifestyle to outsiders? – and for all of the family’s criticism of lovey-dovey rhyming and romantic tropes, there is a great deal of rhyming and flower-giving and ukulele-playing done by the unwholesome family themselves. Every convention that would have been loathed by the titular family makes an appearance during this performance, from twittering birds to pastel dresses.
Wednesday Addams (Grace Chandler) has fallen in love with a boy from Ohio – “The sweet state?!” exclaims Gomez Addams in horror, cartoonishly slamming his hand to his forehead. It’s a classic case of proper-boy-meets-girl-from-crazy-family and when his all-American, wholesome family meets to decidedly eccentric Addams family, nothing else but hi-jinks could ensue. But could this generic middle-American boy be right for Wednesday Addams in all of her ambivalent glory? In the words of Gomez, “Were the 80s right for the drum machine?”
It’s a blandly over-done story that could have happened to any family, but for some reason needed to happen to the Addams Family. The cast gave it their all, belting out incredible numbers and darting across the stage with the greatest of ease, and the audience seemed to appreciate every nod-of-the-head to the classic television show. Mason Catharini seems born to portray Gomez Addams in all his macabre charm, but perhaps the most shining performance came from Alyssa Wellman-Houde as the poem-spouting, pastel-wearing, middle-class American housewife with a suppressed darkness that comes boiling to the surface.
However, for all of the play’s short-comings, it was a genuine and fun to watch. The audience snapped along to the theme song, giggled at all of the winks to the classic TV show, applauded throughout the surprisingly understated tango scene between Gomez and Morticia, and gave a standing ovation as the curtains closed. There was an energy running amongst the people in the packed theater throughout the entire show, and a liveliness to every performance that made the ghoulish family even more charming than ever before.