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Review: ‘Addams Family’ still amusing, entertaining

The original “The Addams Family” comics sprang from the pen of Charles Addams in the late 1930s, and went on to pop culture immortality with a popular 1960s television series and two movies in the 1990s.

Thus, we’ve always known they were creepy and kooky. Turns out they can sing, too.

In 2010, the Addamses – husband Gomez, wife Morticia, daughter Wednesday and son Pugsley, Uncle Fester, Grandma and a (mostly) silent butler Lurch – moved to Broadway, stars of a musical written by Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

And now, that show has landed at the Kroc Center in a production from Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, in a regional debut.

The plot is one we’ve seen before. Think “La Cage aux Folles” or even “Romeo and Juliet.” Two young lovers – macabre Wednesday Addams (Jessi Little) and her straight-laced beau, Lucas Beineke (Cody Bray) – want to get married. But first they have to introduce their families. The Addamses live in a haunted mansion, relish touring the sewers of Paris and enjoy torturing each other – literally. The Beinekes are the Midwestern stereotype: conservative, uptight and boring. Predictably, things don’t go well, causing estranged relationships all over the place.

This is a show that is way more entertaining than it has any business being. After all, the story of the Addamses and their clashes with the “normal” world are old hat by now. The CST cast – a mix of local veterans and out of town talent – give it their all, and are to a person top-notch.

As Gomez and Morticia, Steve Czarnecki and Christine Riippi are delightful; they bring some of the same fun sexiness that made Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston so memorable in the movie versions.

Lanz Edwin Babbitt, delightful earlier this year in CST’s “My Fair Lady” as Col. Pickering, is simply terrific as Uncle Fester. In this production, Fester isn’t a crazy mad scientist type; rather he’s a hopeless romantic, and it’s his machinations that help make sure our young lovers end up together. Babbitt brings so much energy and vocal talent to the role. Picture Fester as the love child of Nathan Lane and Ethel Merman, as raised by Pee-wee Herman, and you’ll get the idea. He’s a hoot.

The rest of the cast, including local favorites Jerry Sciarrio and Callie McKinney Cabe, is strong across the board. Noah Graybeal, a sixth-grader, is charming as young Pugsley. Andy Renfrew elicits laughs with every one of Lurch’s grunts. Little’s Wednesday is as strong-willed as she is dark and odd, while Bray brings a goofy sweetness to Lucas. Heidi Santiago is hilarious as the buttoned-up Alice Beineke, who eventually is undone, in a good way, by Pugsley’s mischief.

A popular Broadway success (if not a critical one – the New York Times’ Ben Brantley called it a “collapsing tomb”), “The Addams Family” ran for nearly two years on Broadway, and sported an original cast that included Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia.

It’s not by any stretch a great musical. The second act feels disjointed as various loose ends are neatly tied up and we speed to the inevitable happy ending. And an admittedly amusing and sweet number for Fester, “The Moon and Me,” seems out of place. That said, the talented cast of Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s production is more than up to the task of keeping the audience engaged and entertained.

After all, who doesn’t want a bit of frivolity as summer cartwheels to an end?