Dinner on the dark side: Sierra School of Performing Arts presents ‘The Addams Family’ musical at Bartley Ranch

The “new-boyfriend-meets-the-parents” trope is an old chestnut in theater, film and TV. It’s popular because it works as an easy, usually funny gateway to an evening of mishaps, miscommunication and general mayhem.

You’ll find another iteration this month at the Hawkins Amphitheater at Bartley Ranch Regional Park, where the Sierra School of Performing Arts presents The Addams Family, a musical comedy by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

Capitalizing on the success of Netflix’s Wednesday and the longtime (inexplicable) popularity of the TV and film franchises, this SSPA production takes that same old story and twists it, adding a bit of potion, some marital strife and a family that’s drawn to the dark and depressing. It also showcases top-notch local talent and makes for an enjoyable night out.

Young Wednesday Addams (played by Anuhea Azevedo) has fallen in love. His name is Lucas Beineke (Jeremy Uithoven), and he is eager to meet Wednesday’s family, and for her to meet his own parents. She beseeches her parents, Gomez (Michael Davanzo) and Morticia (Amy Ginder), to host the Beinekes for a “normal” dinner. The Addamses, being typically macabre and creepy, don’t usually cotton to that whole “normal” thing, but for her, they will try to make an exception.

At the appointed day and time, Lucas and his milquetoast Midwestern parents, Mal (Jared Lively) and Alice (Katie Hughes), arrive—and are seemingly delighted, albeit mystified, by the family’s bizarre home and habits.

Little does either set of parents know that Wednesday’s younger brother, Pugsley (Aubree Shulz), is afraid he’ll lose Wednesday as a playmate when she runs off with Lucas. To prevent this from happening, he steals a bit of acrimonium potion from his grandma (Kimberly Richman) and adds it to a chalice, hoping to dose Wednesday so she’ll change her mind about Lucas. But the chalice ends up in the wrong hands—and before long, the Beinekes are in the midst of a meltdown that throws everyone’s relationships and future plans into a tailspin.

It’s important to call out some particularly wonderful performances in this production, which not only requires great comedic timing and presence, but also strong vocal talent. Amy Ginder is always a bright star on any stage; I’ve enjoyed watching her in numerous SSPA and Brüka performances, and she continues to impress with her comedic chops and versatility. As Morticia, she is wickedly fun.

Azevedo is outstanding as Wednesday. Though she’s relatively unknown to me, I expect to see a lot more of her; not only is she an incredible singer, but her unique, deadpan delivery of Wednesday’s dialogue really helped her make the part her own. Also worth noting is Davanzo’s portrayal of Gomez. I enjoyed his performance in Kinky Boots at Brüka Theatre earlier this summer, but he played the straight man (so to speak) and thus didn’t get much of an opportunity to be silly. Here, that quality in him really shines; Gomez is consistently funny and lovable, and his songs are among the best of the show.

Hands down, the best performance is that of Katie Hughes as Alice, Lucas’ folksy, buttoned-up mother who gets to have her own sort of awakening at the dinner party. I first saw Hughes in Reno Little Theater’s Baskerville, and she just keeps getting better. I felt like I was watching her channel vintage Madeline Kahn. Her shrill delivery, gift for physical comedy and singing abilities stole the show.

Kudos also to the live band, led by conductor Branden McKinnon, which performs for the entire two-plus-hour show and keeps it moving along flawlessly.

Though the show is packed with talent, there’s little they can do with a script that could be at least one-third shorter, and much tighter. Several scenes contribute nothing to the story and could have been lifted out. And the ending seems to take a long time in coming, with several finales seemingly stacked on top of each other when they could have been wrapped up in minutes. A few technical issues at the media preview performance I attended made some dialogue hard to hear, but they were minor and likely due to it being this production’s first show before a live audience.

Though it can feel like a long evening (especially on the amphitheater’s hard metal chairs), there are plenty of laughs to be had. Just bring chair cushions and warm clothes, and revel in the sheer volume of talent before you. There’s plenty of that.

The Addams Family, a production of the Sierra School of Performing Arts, is being performed at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 17-20; and Friday and Saturday, Aug. 25 and 26, at the Robert Z. Hawkins Amphitheater at Bartley Ranch Regional Park, 6000 Bartley Ranch Road, in Reno. Tickets are $18 to $55. For tickets or more information, visit www.sierraschoolofperformingarts.org/shows.html.