Review: The Addams Family at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

TheatreBloom rating:

Full Disclosure: The Addams Family has risen up from the shadows and gloom and descended upon the stage of Toby’s Dinner Theatre. This wickedly entertaining new musical comedy is making its regional premier in the round; a tour de force of hilarious comedy, intoxicating dancing, and the creepiest of kooks all on one stage! Directed and Choreographed by Mark Minnick, with Musical Direction by Ross Scott Rawlings, this charming, feel-good family fun musical is a tremendous success with extraordinary talent to be enjoyed all evening long. A fantastic showcase of all the marvels this exceptional theatre has to offer, The Addams Family will tickle your funny bone in all the right ways as you embrace your inner darkness and roll along for the kooky ride!

Dreariness never looked so perfect as it does at the present moment inside of Toby’s. Resident Set Designer David A. Hopkins has outdone himself this time around with a fully immersive all-encapsulating set-experience. From the moment you enter the lobby subtle hints of the musical are at work. Little decorations are set into the framework of the ceiling as if the set were a living breathing monster creeping its tendrils out from inside the theatre. The candelabras that are mounted at each entrance into the stage are bedecked in cobwebs, outdone only by the flickering chandeliers hung over each seating section, also liberally draped in the spooky spider webbing. The eerie sensation of a true haunted mansion creeps in with the fog and fills the space with a titular chill. Hopkins mounts creepy portraits that are more than what they seem all around the house and captures the essence of this iconic mysterious family throughout the show with all of the unique props and moving set pieces. Pugsley’s chain-chamber is an honest scream and well worth appreciating.

(L to R) The Addams Family: David James as Grandma, MaryKate Brouillet as Wednesday, David Bosley-Reynolds as Lurch, Lawrence B. Munsey as Gomez, Priscilla Cuellar as Moricia, Shawn Kettering as Uncle Fester, and Gavin Willard as Pugsley
(L to R) The Addams Family: David James as Grandma, MaryKate Brouillet as Wednesday, David Bosley-Reynolds as Lurch, Lawrence B. Munsey as Gomez, Priscilla Cuellar as Moricia, Shawn Kettering as Uncle Fester, and Gavin Willard as Pugsley Jeri Tidwell

Lighting Designer Coleen M. Foley completes the masterful experience of attending an evening with the Addams and all their eccentric glory. Light-up tombstones in the graveyard and ghostly green and purple accents that cast mystifying shards of colored light down over the chandeliers are just a few of Foley’s devious delights that complete the haunting aesthetic of the production. Her use of light in motion is eerily exquisite as well; shafts of blue piercing through the slats in the walls or the feverish yellow glow that radiates through the whole of the number “Waiting” really enveloping the feelings that arise during these moments and diffusing them into the atmosphere. Foley’s strategically placed spotlights for moments that happen during “Trapped” and “Pulled” often catch beams of fog for an added spine-tingling effect.

The ghouls look their most grisly in this production because of the sensational costumes they wear. Costume Coordinator Lawrence B. Munsey ensures that these family heirlooms stay in pristine condition throughout the course of the show’s run. The costumes must be noted for their dashing authenticity and intricate detail. Every ancestor shines as their own individual character with costumed details that accent the era in time when their lives ended. Morticia’s dress hugs her figure in true homage to the original comic book character and the various outfits belonging to Gomez make him look insane and charming; perhaps even insanely charming. Despite the show’s intentional lack of color, the unique variety of accessories and patterns witnessed in the ancestors’ costumes alone makes up a delectable rainbow of monochromatic grayscale fit for any moldering corpse.

Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings has mastered the complexities of Andrew Lippa’s score with intense reanimation. The ensemble has never sounded better or fuller in any recent production witnessed at Toby’s. With sopranos wailing the high tracks away in a haunting and simultaneously entrancing fashion, numbers like “Full Disclosure” and “When You’re an Addams” ring through the rafters with the echoes of spirits. Rawlings succeeds in making an ensemble of ten sound like the voices of two dozen in both their rich and robust volume and their exceptional pitch-perfect quality.

Director and show Choreographer Mark Minnick stamps his hallmark on the production early on. The blocking is precise, the movement is sharp, the dance routines are executed with flawless precision. The comedy speaks for itself without feelings of contrivance; funny happens because Minnick’s skilled directorial eye understands how to coach his cast into letting it occur naturally rather than forcing it. These iconic characters are well represented and yet simultaneously their own unique creation under Minnick’s guidance. One of Minnick’s most triumphant moments in the production is subtle and sweet; the precious and inventively creative fashion in which he handles “The Moon and Me” a real rolling surprise for all who experience it.

The Addams Family dance out Rigor Mortis and the Death Rattle in "When You're an Addams"
The Addams Family dance out Rigor Mortis and the Death Rattle in “When You’re an Addams” Jeri Tidwell

As the show’s Choreographer, Minnick infuses his eclectically learned style into each of the numbers with practiced perfection. Dance styles range from tango to modern with everything in-between and everything is executed with exacting precision and attention to synchronized detail. “Secrets” has a wildly intense routine featuring the female ancestors (Heather Marie Beck, Coby Kay Callahan, Amanda Kaplan, Rachel Kemp, and Julia Lancione) that is a remarkable hybrid of flying limbs, high kicks, and swiveling hips.

“Just Around the Corner” is another excellent routine that really showcases Minnick’s versatility as a choreographer and the cast’s trust in their director to lead them to new and successful dancing heights. Keep your eyes out for “Dancing Death (Andre Hinds)” in this number, as he’s quite the fleet-footed spirit. The dance routine of dance routines is none other than “Tango De Amor” and when the ‘challenge’ is issued, it’s almost as if Minnick has issued this challenge directly to his dancers to see just how intense and brilliant a routine they can pull off; sheer perfection never looked so mesmerizing as it does being danced out among the deceased.

Bottom Row: (L to R) Matthew Hirsh, Heather Marie Beck, and Ariel Messeca. Top Row: (L to R) Rachel Kemp, Jeffrey Shankle, Amanda Kaplan, Andre Hinds, Coby Kay Callahan, Will Emory, and Julia Lancione
Bottom Row: (L to R) Matthew Hirsh, Heather Marie Beck, and Ariel Messeca. Top Row: (L to R) Rachel Kemp, Jeffrey Shankle, Amanda Kaplan, Andre Hinds, Coby Kay Callahan, Will Emory, and Julia Lancione Jeri Tidwell

Each ancestor has their place in the production and they really make it flow with funny moments. As the conduits of love these insanely talented Toby’s veteran performers (including the aforementioned female ancestors as well as Will Emory, Andre Hinds, Matthew Hirsh, Ariel Messeca, and Jeffrey Shankle) stir up a haze of hilarity. The honest triple threat; dancing dead, singing spirits, and comic creepers the ensemble make the show at crucial moments throughout, particularly when filling in the gaps of Uncle Fester (Shawn Kettering)’s narrative.

The ghoulish movements, the astonishing voices, the character commitment is incredible and beyond compare among this ensemble. Each ancestor takes their moment in the spotlight— whether it’s Heather Marie Beck and her creepily intense dance intro from the crypt during the opening number or Julia Lancione’s melodramatic hysterics as the jilted bride sprinkled throughout— every member of this cast’s ensemble: living, dead, and undecided, make their presence felt. They work together like a well-decomposing body; enriching the performances of those around them by being spectacular as one singing, dancing, performing unit.

Shawn Kettering as Uncle Fester
Shawn Kettering as Uncle Fester Jeri Tidwell

Shawn Kettering, as the queerly ambiguous relative of no specific sexuality, serves as the connective tether from the show’s storyline and the audience. A crucial relative element to this production, but especially given the intimacy of the setting, Kettering does a decidedly impressive job with subtly toeing through the fourth wall. His character voice is quirky and appropriate for the peculiar bald fellow. His singing voice is surprisingly delicate; a humorous yet sentimental sound that really makes every rendition of “But Love” funny and endearing. It’s Kettering’s solo “The Moon and Me” that is truly precious and lightly inspiring; between his gentle joviality and his willingness to glide through the scene both physically and vocally the number is truly too cute for words. The heart-melting semi-falsetto featured at the end of the number is the perfect coda for the song.

Capturing the heart (and brain and kidneys and whatever other body parts he can get his hands on) of the audience is little Pugsley Addams (at this performance, Gavin Willard.) Much like Fester’s lovesick solo, Willard’s “What If?” is almost too precious for words. With a deceptively sweet voice this lyrically dissonant solo gut-punches the audience with uproarious laughter whilst Willard syrupy melodious voice entreats the audience to his various vices of torture. His overly animated approach to “Pulled” is simply to die for, and I’m not pulling your leg! A brilliant rascal, Willard gets most of his stage time with Grandma (David James) and makes the most of his diabolical scheming.

Puglsey (L- Gavin Willard) and Grandma Addams (R- David James)
Puglsey (L- Gavin Willard) and Grandma Addams (R- David James) Jeri Tidwell

James, in a role like no other, wins the award for physical character commitment in the performance. With a gait that could straddle Ohio— the great swing state— and a hunched and crippling posture that attests to the character’s age, James never falters in this portrayal whether its mincing in his walk around the stage with his cart of kooky remedies or tottering in from a hard day’s work with the red cross. This physical commitment really engages the audience and keeps the premise that Grandma is 102 and quite possibly not even related to the family alive and realistic; a mark of achievement in any theatrical endeavor, convincing your audience that you are who you are.  

Wednesday (L- MaryKate Brouillet) Lurch (C- David Bosley-Reynolds) and Morticia (R- Priscilla Cuellar)
Wednesday (L- MaryKate Brouillet) Lurch (C- David Bosley-Reynolds) and Morticia (R- Priscilla Cuellar) Jerri Tidwell

One would never suspect that the silent character could so easily be a major scene-stealer. David Bosley-Reynolds takes on the tremendously large role of Lurch, the Addams family zombie butler. Without ever uttering a single word, Bosley-Reynolds brings the audience to uproarious bouts of laughter between his zombiesque shuffling and his subtle facial expression shifts. His attempt to ‘hurry along’ results in gut-busting laughter every time his character attempts to do so. Bosley-Reynolds is a comic gem; a glowing corpse that radiates through the detritus of such a still character. Keep an eye and an ear on him during the show’s finale “Move Toward the Darkness” what is discovered might be mind-blowing enough to raise the dead.

The Beineke Family: (L to R) Lucas (AJ Whittenberger) Mal (Darren McDonnell) and Alice (Elizabeth Rayca)
The Beineke Family: (L to R) Lucas (AJ Whittenberger) Mal (Darren McDonnell) and Alice (Elizabeth Rayca) Jeri Tidwell

Trying to counterbalance the weird in this production is the Beineke family. Mal Beineke (Darren McDonnell) and his wife Alice (Elizabeth Rayca) are the epitome of normal, if one dares to give such a word definition. McDonnell has a level-headed, albeit stubborn, portrayal of this up-tight prudish man, but the vocal sound that he lets loose when finally given the chance to sing is astonishing. Stealing the thunder from the quartet of “Crazier Than You,” McDonnell is on fire in this number, even boldly daring to take the raised octave note during the ending sustain. There is something unnamable about his congeniality, despite the character itself being easily dislikeable. McDonnell transforms the character with one of the show’s most drastic character arcs, resulting in a truly satisfying performance.

Elizabeth Rayca (center) as Alice Beineke wailing out "Waiting"
Elizabeth Rayca (center) as Alice Beineke wailing out “Waiting” Jeri Tidwell

Rayca, as the simpering poetic domestic, is equally impressive in her role and well matched against McDonnell in this pair of terribly normal parents. Rhyming with chipper glee the saccharine likes of which could give a salt mine diabetes, Rayca really delves into the character’s inner quirkiness. Dynamically juxtaposing this burst of disgusting sunshine against her true frustrated inner darkness, Rayca proves herself to be an intensely versatile performer. “Waiting” seizes the audience with a foreboding rapture; a forbidden and haunted ecstasy that surges through ever fiber of her being as she wails away. Vocally Rayca is stunning; her featured solo wrapping up the first act of the show with a tremendous bang.

The Beineke son, Lucas (AJ Whittenberger), has an ironically inherited vocal sound. Whittenberger manages to imbue McDonnell’s stern vocal clarity with Rayca’s fluid vocal emotion expressivity into his character when singing. This makes for a perfect vocal accessory to Wednesday Addams (MaryKate Brouillet) during their duet portion of “Crazier Than You.” Whittenberger intentionally lives in Brouillet’s shadow, making for the perfect milquetoast portrayal of this cautiously calculating young ‘normal.’

MaryKate Brouillet as Wednesday Addams
MaryKate Brouillet as Wednesday Addams Jeri Tidwell

Brouillet is a powerhouse of terror and a fierce force to be reckoned with in this production. Playing the clearly emotionally disturbed Wednesday Addams, Brouillet goes deep-sea diving into the character’s psyche to truly understand all of the erratic nuances of love and just how they affect her stoically morbid character. The deadpan and nippy sarcasm is dark and charming. But it’s Brouillet’s voice that cannot be ignored; a true blast of vocal prowess that shakes the house down during “Pulled” you can feel the deliciously confused anguish and excitement of her character’s plight. With a belt that could circle the earth, Brouillet brings bone-shattering intensity to her character’s solo in “One Normal Night” as well as her half of “Crazier Than You.”

Like mother like daughter, Wednesday had to get it from somewhere. Perfection incarnate is Priscilla Cuellar as Morticia Addams. The hybrid of originality meeting character homage all wrapped in vocal perfection and character commitment, Gomez, the stage, and the audience have no idea what’s hit them. Cuellar is the epitome of Morticia with her sensual sashay every time she enters and exits a scene but this committed bodily gesture never once restricts her fluid dancing. A knockout in “Secrets” and “Tango De Amor” Cuellar allows her body to be possessed by the rhythm of the music and moves accordingly. Her deadpan delivery and biting sarcasm is the fully actualized version of what Wednesday delivers and their mannerisms are hilariously similar. Cuellar’s voice is phenomenal. “Secrets” as well as her single line features in “Live Before We Die” are tantalizing, the nuances of her thoroughly developed character creeping into each sung song. But it’s “Just Around the Corner” that is her truly radiant moment. Filling the empty stage with her beltress voice, her exuberant physicality and exceptional command of stage presence, Cuellar blows everyone over with this solo.

Priscilla Cuellar as Morticia Addams
Priscilla Cuellar as Morticia Addams Jeri Tidwell

Morticia and Gomez (Lawrence B. Munsey) are the epitome of fervid amore. Cuellar and Munsey have exceptional stage chemistry that burbles like a violent tempest, calm and entangled and ready to erupt at a moment’s notice. The dynamic with which these two play with one another throughout the performance is an exhilarating roller coaster ride; an added bonus to all of the other excitement happening in the production. They read one another exceptionally well and when they dance in each other’s arms, there are sparks of electricity between them that can practically be felt zapping all through the air.

Gomez Addams (R- Larry Munsey) fences with Thing.
Gomez Addams (R- Lawrence B. Munsey) fences with Thing. Jeri Tidwell

Munsey, as the loony patriarch of the Addams family, let’s his crazy shine full blast and is not afraid to show it. The comic timing with which Munsey delivers the role is strikingly accurate. There are moments of pause or hesitation that result in heightened hilarity for some of his zippier one-lined zingers, each joke landing with well-thought precision. With a well-established character it’s the songs that Munsey performs that really complete the role to a tenfold of impressiveness. “Happy/Sad” is the most touching number in the performance, imbued with raw emotional confliction of bittersweet moments that are all too relatable for anyone who is growing up or watched their child grow up. “Trapped” and its various asides, are humorous tableaus into Gomez’ rich inner turmoil. “Not Today” is the defining moment where Munsey showcases ever side of Gomez all in one musical number; the perfect blend of accent, physicality, vocal clarity and prowess all aligning in this one song. The rich robust sound of his voice is perfect for these songs, and when it matches up with Cuellar’s for playful moments like the opening “When You’re an Addams” there is something truly magnificent about what is heard between them.

A sensational stage production; a wild and entertaining night of theatre. The world will be changed because you’re sure to walk away with your sides sore from laughing, your lips tired from smiling and your heart lightened by these impressive performances. The Addams Family at Toby’s is as good as it gets on the stage in this area for the next two months. Full Disclosure.  

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

The Addams Family plays through April 19, 2015 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. For tickets please call (301) 596-6161 or purchase them online.

Read Part 1 of the Move Toward the Darkness Interview series, featuring ensemble ancestor Julia Lancione.

Read Part 2 of the Move Toward the Darkness Interview series, featuring David Bosley-Reynolds as Lurch.

Read Part 3 of the Move Toward the Darkness Interview series featuring David James as Grandma Addams.

Read Part 4 of the Move Toward the Darkness Interview series featuring Darren McDonnell and Elizabeth Rayca as The Beineke Family.

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