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‘Addams Family’ brings dark comedy to stage

On the surface, the members of the Addams family are monsters.

They live in a haunted, cobwebbed mansion. They sleep in coffins. Their hobbies require the implementation of arcane torture devices. Their butler looks like a Dr. Frankenstein creation, and the patriarch’s childhood friend is a disembodied hand with a mind of its own.

But if you look a little closer, you realize that the Addamses, despite their gothic predilections, aren’t too far removed from the straight-laced Cleaver family of “Leave It to Beaver.”

Perhaps that off-kilter marriage of the mundane and the grotesque is the key to the lasting appeal of the characters, which were created by artist Charles Addams for a long-running comic series and later spun off in an endlessly re-run ’60s TV show, a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon and a couple of big-budget film adaptations in the ’90s.

In 2010, the Addams family made their Broadway musical debut, and the show, written by Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, is currently playing as a part of Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre. Directed by Makaela Pollock, “The Addams Family” is a morbid tribute to pop culture’s most morbid clan, and it revels in the quirks that made the characters famous in the first place.

“It’s a lighthearted take on the macabre nature of the TV show, told in a slapstick, vaudevillian way,” said Jadd Davis, CST’s artistic director. “It’s visually stunning, the music is fantastic, and it’s just a feast for the eyes for two hours. Even if you’re not a fan of theater, you’re going to have a ball.”

The story transplants Charles Addams’ famous characters – husband Gomez, wife Morticia, daughter Wednesday, son Pugsley, kooky Uncle Fester and manservant Lurch – to modern day. Wednesday has a new boyfriend, whose WASP-y parents have been invited over for dinner at the Addams manor, and the death-obsessed Addamses are pressured into playing normal to keep up appearances – think “La Cage aux Folles” by way of Edgar Allan Poe.

“The Addams Family” is one of those musicals in which the songs are defined by the characters, with each of them assigned their own musical theme. “Gomez sounds very much like a Spanish opera singer, Morticia sounds like a Broadway belter, Wednesday sounds like a pop-rock star,” Davis said. “It references a lot of different styles. It’s a combination of straight-up Broadway showtunes meets jazz meets rock and pop.”

The Addamses have been around for more than 70 years – they first appeared in The New Yorker in 1938 – and Davis says they’re timeless: As long as we’re inherently fascinated by our own mortalities, the characters will always be relevant.

“We all have a dark side, and there’s something wonderful about being able to celebrate that,” Davis said. “And yet there’s also something really sweet about this family. The parents care deeply for their children: Their definition of a child’s well-being may be different from the traditional one, and there’s a huge amount of romantic love between Gomez and Morticia, but they present it in a different enough way that it’s compelling.

“Plus, they’re just funny.”

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