(This review is by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Andrew J. Friedenthal.)
Charles Addams’ ghoulish cartoons featuring a family of dark misfits has inspired a multitude of media, from the classic television show “The Addams Family” to its two movie adaptations, and, most recently, a Broadway musical. That musical has now made its way to Austin, with Summer Stock Austin’s production of “The Addams Family” playing through Aug. 13 in the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center.
The Addams family – father Gomez, mother Morticia, daughter Wednesday, son Pugsley, Uncle Fester, and grandma – are a group of misfits and malcontents with a morbid sense of humor. That humor is on full display in “The Addams Family,” , and director/choreographer Ginger Morris’ vision of the musical (with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by Marshall Brinkman and Rice Elice) brings it to the forefront as much as possible.
Unfortunately, the show is hobbled by what is a weak script, with a promising first act that falls apart in the second half by either failing to deliver or simply wrapping up in the most obvious way possible. What little bit of edgy darkness the first act holds also seems to disappear after intermission.
However, Morris and her talented cast do their best with it, and create a thoroughly enjoyable production, unsatisfying plot and all.
Summer Stock Austin is a nonprofit organization that brings together some of Texas’ most talented young performers, from high schools and colleges all over the state, to put on family-friendly productions (though “The Addams Family” veers towards PG-13 territory at times). This has the benefit of creating an especially talented cast, but the slight drawback of making shows with an intergenerational/family dynamic, like this one, slightly less believable, given the young age of all the performers.
“The Addams Family” has some phenomenal performances, though. Benjamin Roberts, as Gomez, is charming and witty in the harried, sitcom-esque role of the family patriarch, while Keaton Brandt is delightfully wacky as the masochistic Pugsley. David Peña is a pitch-perfect Fester (the amorphously asexual uncle with a big heart who serves as partial narrator) and can switch from gags to earnestness with lightning quickness.
The show-stealers, though, are the Addams women. Mariel Ardila’s Morticia is dry and sardonic when called for, with a masterful stage presence that comes to the fore in her musical numbers. Hanna Roberts, as Wednesday, is particularly strong, with an amazing voice and flawlessly hilarious physical representation of the original goth girl, who in this story is dealing with the first stirrings of love.
Ultimately, “The Addams Family” is frivolous, but sweet and amusing, with a bit of an edge that comes out far too infrequently.
Summer Stock Austin’s production, though, is a charmingly macabre bit of fun that properly highlights the performing prowess of Texas’ next generation of theatrical stars.