By Ron Leir
Those delightfully ghoulish characters created by Charles Addams will be making their way onto the stage at Harrison High School this weekend when the Drama Club presents “The Addams Family.”
But the seeds for this musical odyssey were first planted some four years ago when the high school musical production team traveled to the Minskoff Theatre in Manhattan for “At This Stage Expo” workshops featuring excerpts from currently running Broadway shows tied to an “anti-bullying” theme, recalled producer Matt Boryszewski.
One of those shows was “The Addams Family,” with the plot hanging on a brave effort by the masters of the macabre pretending to be normal for the sake of love-stricken Wednesday, to which notion, Grandma pipes up: “Define ‘normal’.”
And therein, the Harrison delegation learned, lies a parable for helping teach students “acceptance, not judgment” before leaping to attack a fellow student or teacher or anyone else, Boryszewski noted.
So, when the show became available for licensing last theater season, the Harrison team jumped at the chance to put it up on the boards. And, in the process of developing their characters, cast members were encouraged to apply the dictum to “define ‘normal’ ’’ in a non-judgmental way.
Aside from the 27 actors, there are another 23 who are doing backstage work, helping with crew production, props, costumes, lights and sound.
Although there’s no band this time around, musical director Leo DaSilva has blended an off-stage chorus with an electronic computer program of the show’s music, courtesy of Right On Cue Services.
The advantage of approaching the music issue this way, DaSilva said, is that during rehearsals – and ultimately, at performances – the actors are consistently hearing the same orchestral accompaniment.
“We’ve re-created some of the original choreography from the Broadway show and added some [Bob] Fosse soft-shoe numbers, along with swing and Broadway vaudeville stylings, and, of course, the tango, so the show is very musically mixed,” he said.
Eighteen-year-old senior Melony Mercedes, who is now choreographing her third HHS musical, has been devoting one of every three rehearsal hours to overseeing the dance numbers and she says the cast “is doing great” mastering the various styles.
“They’ve come a long way since the first day of rehearsal,” she said.
The biggest challenge, Mercedes said, has been perfecting the big tango number. “It’s about developing a core strength in the abdominal muscle. It’s got to be contracted at all times but, at the same time, it has to look pretty.”
Coming off three months of practice, director Colin Shields, who was at the helm of last year’s musical, “Sweeney Todd,” is confident that this year’s effort will be every bit as good as the Sondheim vehicle.
“This cast is more than I could have dreamed of,” Shields said. “They were on stage one day and the very next day, everyone was off-book.”
Among the featured actors are brothers Raymond and David Pineda: Raymond is playing Gomez, the titular head of the family, filled amply by Nathan Lane on Broadway; while David is Lucas Beineke, the outsider for whom Wednesday has fallen, thereby presenting the Addams Family with the dilemma of how to act “normal” to facilitate the match.
A 17-year-old senior, David has taken on father roles twice in the last two years: He was Tonton Julian in “Once on This Island” and Senex in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” so now he’s sliding into a whole different character.
“I’m crazy in love with Wednesday (played by sophomore Carla Vazquez) and that’s a completely different attitude,” he said.
David, who’s also a percussionist, is “definitely” interested in pursuing acting after graduation but he’s keeping an open mind about a possible career in music education.
Sophomore Julie Coelho, 16, who was “a lunatic” in “Sweeny,” now takes the role of Gomez’s partner, Morticia, played by Bebe Neuwirth on Broadway. “I love the character – it suits me,” Julie said.
Julie has been focusing on getting Morticia’s movements down, particularly in her dancing. “She glides,” Julie explained, “while maintaining her balance. She walks like a snake might walk.”
Also concentrating on her character’s ambulatory habits is senior Breann Mobus, 18, who is stepping into Grandma’s shoes. As the family matriarch, Breann said, “I get to be crazier and have lots of freedom.”
To get the flavor of the role, Breann – now in her fourth show with HHS – said she’s been watching “The Addams Family” movies and reading the Addams comic strips. “I make my voice raspy and my posture hunched over,” she said.
So, why not join the family? There’s something for every taste: a love story, creepy ghosts and quirky characters, and lots of music, too. Just leave your inhibitions at the door.
If you go…
What: “The Addams Family,” with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice (authors of “Jersey Boys”).
Who: Presented by Harrison High School.
When/Where: Thursday, Friday & Saturday, March 26, 27 & 28, all at 7:30 p.m., at the HHS auditorium.
Tickets: $10 for adults; $5 for students and senior citizens.