They were so ready. They’d been working since early December—over a hundred student actors, singers, dancers, crew, and musicians rehearsing, making costumes, building sets, and planning lighting. And then, poof! A global pandemic cancelled their show a week before opening night. The Western Albemarle High School Theater Ensemble, directed by Caitlin Pitts with vocal direction by Elizabeth Vaughn and orchestral direction by Joel Hartshorn, prepared another fabulous evening of entertainment for Crozet and beyond, only to have their hopes dashed at the last minute. This review is based on the final dress rehearsal.
The plot of a young lady or man or bringing home a boy or girlfriend to meet his/her quirky parents and having everything go awry is a theatrical standard, and usually leads to hilarious shenanigans and delightful humor. Think of Moss Hart’s 1930s classic You Can’t Take It With You or the charming 1950s Broadway musical Mame, or the 2002 classic My Big Fat Greek Wedding. We sympathize with the hopeful, love-struck young man or woman begging his family for “one normal night,” and share their desperate embarrassment when the family inevitably shows its true colors—even as we relish the laugh-out-loud situations that ensue. And of course, since most families are quirky, we can usually identify.
This familiar plot is employed with delightful effect in the Western Albemarle High School’s appropriately ghoulish production of The Addams Family, planned for the weekend of March 12-14 but cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. With music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, based on the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice—in turn based on Charles Addams’ cartoon characters which first appeared in The New Yorker from 1938 to his death in 1988, and later became a TV series—The Addams Family musical opened on Broadway in 2010 starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. The story involves a darkly weird family with an affinity for all things macabre. The WAHS production featured an elaborate set to create a spooky mansion, including a graveyard with family crypt, a skull on the mantel, a skeletal dog, and ghostly ancestors animating the picture frames. When teenaged Wednesday (Baylee Hughes) invites the family of her secret fiancé Lucas (Brayden Crickenberger) to dinner, she begs her loving father Gomez (Henry Davies) to keep her engagement a secret from his wife Morticia (Halle Brockett) and to help her achieve “One Normal Night”—splendidly sung by Hughes. Gomez is torn, since he and the deliciously slinky Morticia (Halle Brockett) pride themselves on always telling each other the truth. Brockett’s strong, sultry voice shines as she explains this foundation of a successful marriage in “Secrets” and later escapes her troubles in (Death is) “Just Around the Corner.”
“The Addams Family is dark and weird,” noted director Pitts in the program notes. They relish pain, but at the same time, they love and treasure each other and bring a joyous humor to how they live life. The first song of the show is all about being a family, and the last words have the Ancestors singing ‘love, love, love, love.’” A suitably pallid and hilarious Uncle Fester (Ian Kenworthy) displays admirable stage presence as he enlists the help of their many dead ancestors—brides, ballerinas, nurses, and pilots—to make the evening a success in “But Love.” Meanwhile, Wednesday’s torture-loving younger brother Pugsley steals an id-releasing potion from Grandma and, attempting to break up the romance by slipping it to Wednesday, accidentally gives it to Lucas’s mother Alice (Francesca Gibson) instead. When Alice lets her hair down and admits her discontent with a passionless marriage—displaying her mature, beautiful voice in the song “Waiting”—all hell breaks loose. As the Ancestors call up a threatening storm to keep everyone in the spooky mansion for the night, Wednesday and Lucas announce their marriage plans to their shocked parents. Will young love triumph?
Other cast standouts were Eli Thornton as the zombie butler Lurch—who surprises us all with a late, lovely solo in “Moving Toward the Dark”—Brayden Crickenberger as Wednesday’s earnest and caring boyfriend Lucas, and Ian Murphy as Lucas’s stuffy father Mal(com), who finally learns how to open up to a loving family. Henry Davies’ pitch-perfect tenor voice deftly handles Gomez’s numerous solos. A stage apron breaks the third wall by allowing the actors’ to make occasional trips into the audience. With inspired choreography by students Baylee Hughes, Lily Clark and Maya Thomas—highlighted by a mystical dance with open umbrellas echoing the moon’s shape as Ian Kenworthy tenderly croons “The Moon and Me,” WAHS’s first-ever group tap dance in the ebullient “Just Around the Corner,” and an impressive, authentic tango number—this show rises to the pinnacle of performance quality we have learned to expect from the WAHS Theater Ensemble based on previous top-notch offerings.
On Wednesday, March 4—before schools closed state-wide—the cast and crew presented a one-hour preview to clients of JABA’s Adult Day Care Center and the Mary Williams Community Senior Center, along with Henley eighth graders and second period WAHS students whose teachers allowed them to come. The visit was arranged by Kelly Langan, activities director for the Center, whose daughter Stephanie plays an Ancestor ballerina in the show. Afterwards, Ms. Pitts and cast members posed with the adult day care members. JABA offers daily Adult Day Care for disabled adults at their headquarters on Hillsdale Drive.
“The Addams Family has been one of the most unifying and truly collaborative shows we’ve ever done,” commented director Caitlin Pitts. “The spirit of family and teamwork have been wonderful, and we are heartbroken that the show couldn’t be performed. If at all possible we will try to perform it at a later date.”
Let’s hope so!