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The Julia Morgan Theatre, already resembles a large former church and family home, is the perfect venue to host the famous macabre Addams Family. Writer cartoonist Charles Addams created several thousand cartoons and drawings that were published in The New Yorker. It it his creation of characters that came to be known as The Addams Family that brought Addams his greatest fame. His unique style that combined the twisted and just plain weird with charm, wit and oddness, Addams' has entertained millions worldwide and has been the inspiration for multiple television series and Hollywood films, and now a musical with a brand new story.

The Addams are now calling Berkeley their home at the Berkeley Playhouse Julia Morgan stage through April 17th. Directed and choreographed by long time Berkeley Playhouse associate Kimberly Dooley, she brought a first rate cast of 21 together to keep this a truly family story. Dooley says, "It's family first and family last. Everything starts and ends with love and loyalty of family." Artistic Director, Elizabeth McKoy, also admires the family charm "The Addams family celebrates our unique differences while asking important questions such as: What is a normal family? Through hilarious characters and a spicy and lush musical score, this story helps us laugh at our fears and connect to life in unexpected ways. It's the perfect family musical."

This American urban pop culture did not do well on Broadway even with Nathan Lane as Gomez, but for regional stages this is the perfect new family musical that has scored a hit on many stages here in the Bay Area. The book is by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice who are known for "Jersey Boys". The songs by Andrew Lippa "Big Fish" are a mix of tango, vaudeville, and some slapstick that are fun and Addams' “camp”. The Berkeley audiences respond from the first bar of the music as the iconic opening tune encourages finger snapping. It touches true devotees to the original lovable morbid family. Fans of the television series will also be delighted by the musical’s allusions to the very first episode of the show. Morticia plucks the rose flowers off the stems and sticks the thorny stems in a vase; Uncle Fester puts a bulb into his mouth and it lights up. Jokes about Trump, and Berkeley bring the family into the 21st century, and give those who may not be so familiar with the show something to giggle about.

The company bursts onto the stage with the opening number, “When You’re an Addams,” a new introduction to the family. The plot is then set up; an older Wednesday, played by the talented Chelsea Holifield, is bringing a boy home and she wants her family to be on their best behavior. She tells her dad, Gomez, played by local favorite and the charming Alex Rodriguez, the truth about her new love, Lucas, played by the dapper Samuel Leeper. They are, in fact, engaged but she wants dad to keep it secret from Morticia, played by the excellent Taylor Bartolucci, which of course comes back to haunt the entire family.

The lovable engaging Nick Quintell is cast as the romantic Uncle Fester, who sings “Festers Manifesto” in the opening act and we find that Fester is our story teller and adorable host. Quintell has the right Fester gaga voice for this role and keeps the first act moving with love for the moon and more. Midway through Wednesday's first number, “Pulled,” Holifield displays both a strong voice and an ability to maintain her teen angst, angry glower even as she experiences love for the first time. Her brother Pugsley played by feisty Ezra Gaskin, is on stage with her, and has the voice to prove his likable talent. The number gets close to Disney camp territory. Wednesday claps a dead bird between her hands, and the snappy chorus comes to an abrupt halt. The chorus of dead ancestors is headed by a talented ensemble including Cameron Adrien La Brie, Patrick Brewer, Danila Burshteyn, Elizabeth Cox, Aubri No-eau Kahalekulu, Melissa Martinez, David Murphy, Allison Paraiso, Samantha Pistoresi, Daniel Barrington Rubio, Maurice Andre San-Chez. The aspiring Jonah Rotenberg who was part of the CCCT Addams cast plays Pugsley alternate performances.

Rodriguez and Bartolucci are the loving couple Gomez and Morticia who hold the show together based on the predictable script. Their duet “Live Before We Die’ is a show stopper and they both have commanding voices. Rodriguez, a wonderful character actor and dancer and is ideal for this role, he is the reason to see this Family. As he tango’s across the stage with his wife in “Tango De Amor” - it is a highlight of the two and half hour show. Lucas' parents are played by Tielle Baker and Brian Watson, the every man (couple) of this story. The two are superb in “Crazier Than You” along with Leeper and Hollifield. Grandmama is played by the delightful Sandi Weldon, who creeps around the stage and becomes the mystery of who she really is? (not an Addams).

Despite Wednesday’s asking her family to act “normal,” predictably we get that hilarious disaster will ensue when the Addams meet the the fiance’s family a classic mom and her stereotypical white collar, American husband. Lucas is surprisingly simple as the boyfriend but adds some wonderful red head color to his Midwestern smile, he is featured in the number “Waiting” and is exceptional. The iconic character Lurch is always in the wings or background performing his own subtext of a chorus, very well and comically played by the stoic David Murphy. Lurch opens the evening as he signs for us to turn off our cells. At the end of the evening he the surprise ringer in “Move Towards The Darkness” where the entire company shines.

Dooley's direction and choreography is stunning as well as fun and eccentric as the book calls for. She keeps the theme of family well vested and important. The creative team all score well in this production with a shadowy but clever set by Kirsten Royston that fits well with Lisa Danz's stylishly zombie like gowns for the ancestors and dead black for the family. The wigs by Lexie Lazear and the wonderful props by Royston including the disembodied hand “Thing” who steals the opening of the show. The pit down stage has a the perfect orchestra headed by Music Director Michael Patrick Wiles. Lighting designer Nick Kumamoto kept the moon light just right for Uncle Fester and the glow of a dim lit set that is not much different from the feel you get when entering the Julia Morgan when it’s not so spooky or creepy. America's classic “unhappy” family will keep you smiling. From Lurch mumbling for us to turn off our cells, to Gomez telling us to “move towards the darkness” it is obvious that this Addams Family is a Berkeley favorite.

The Berkeley Playhouse Presents


By Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and Andrew Lippa,

Directed and Choreographed by Kimberly Dooley,

Music Director Michael Patrick Wiles

Through: April 17, 2016

Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley Ca.

Running time: 2 hours, 24 minutes, one intermission

Tickets: $25-$60;

510-845-8542, ext. 351,

Photo’s by Ben Krantz STUDIO

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