The humorously macabre themes of “The Addams Family,” performed in late October, made it an apt choice to open the 2023-2024 community drama lineup at dramaworks/West End Theatre. Meeting the challenges of this production brought the Quincy theatre “into the new century of music and precision,” said director Theresa Gallagher.
In this modern musical, the mysterious Addams family — made famous in comics, a 1960s TV show, movies, and a current Netflix show — must confront the relationship dilemma created when daughter Wednesday falls in love with a boy from a “normal” family. Running jokes about the Addamses’ creepy lifestyle kept the audience laughing, but the timeless messages about love, acceptance, family support, honesty, and the relative meaning of “normal,” transcend the Halloween season.
This show was unfamiliar for Quincy theatre because it is so different from musicals such as those by Rodgers and Hammerstein, “the usual Broadway fare,” Gallagher said. After initially declining to direct, she was convinced by Michelle Pfingston, who had fallen in love with “The Addams Family” when she saw the Broadway cast perform during the 2010 Tonys. With support from Pfingston and Theresa Crews as assistant directors, Gallagher decided, “Let’s do something different in Plumas County.”
“Acting is my hobby. And I love being on stage performing,” said Pfingston, who also played the role of Morticia. But, excited for the opportunity to hone her “behind stage” skills, she jumped in to assemble the creative team for “The Addams Family.” “Let me tell you, I have a new respect for directors,” she said. “An extraordinarily taxing job — and I am a teacher, so I know about herding cats.”
The biggest challenge of this production was the music, agreed Gallagher and Pfingston. Over the course of 24 songs, plus reprises, the music changed both key and time signature many times — sometimes in the course of just a phrase or two. “It was a great amount of singing for actors, plus all the dancing or ‘blocking’ that is added to any song,” said Gallagher.
To meet this challenge, the cast and crew used a combination of live music and recorded tracks. Local pianists Marsha Roby and Joan Herndon provided live accompaniment during early rehearsals. The show used recorded tracks for later rehearsals and the final performances. “In this era, finding an orchestra in a small, rural town is a huge challenge,” said Gallagher. “Music programs, art, and drama are often cut by school districts first. Hence, you do not have a pool from which to draw.”
Despite the fact that most actors have never used stage tracks, this “is the future for our specific circumstances,” Gallagher said. She said that sound specialist Ken Donnell and technical director Jeff Bryan had the “professional knowledge and expertise to adapt to this ‘new’ way of performing.” “This cast astounded me in terms of jumping right in and understanding that it was a necessity,” said Gallagher.
Using tracks was “a long and tedious learning curve,” said Pfingston, but the challenge of working up to the tempo of the tracks was also exciting. In addition, she said choreographers Wendy Yates and Ramona Eaglesmith were “amazing,” spending extra time working with “non-dancers” in the cast and challenging everyone to rise to a higher standard. This kind of challenge is one of the benefits of community theatre, said Pfingston. “It offers a creative outlet for individuals like myself, fostering personal growth and self-expression.”
“Theatre brings a sense of belonging, ownership, and pride to a community. Plus, it is fun!”Theresa Gallagher, Director
Gallagher said it’s the people in community theatre and their dedication that have motivated her to direct in Plumas County over the past 50 years. “People do not realize that a good production takes months of time,” she said. “All the actors are learning lines and songs on their own time. A show is a huge commitment, not only for the actors, but for their families.”
Over the course of directing about 200 shows at all levels in Plumas County — from junior high to high school, from private companies to Feather River College and dramaworks — Gallagher said she enjoys seeing all the hard work from casts and crews develop into success. “They are dedicated. Their commitment is inspiring,” she said.
The hard work paid off: “The Addams Family” sold out in a day and a half. “That hasn’t happened in several decades!” said Pfingston. She pointed out that there is a “hunger” for the performing arts after COVID lockdowns, and that community theatre makes the arts more accessible to a wider audience by providing entertainment and cultural enrichment. She said theatre also brings people together and promotes community spirit. Gallagher echoed her sentiment: “Theatre brings a sense of belonging, ownership, and pride to a community. Plus, it is fun!”
“Plumas County is chock-full of talent!” said Pfingston. “We delivered a quality piece of work, and our community responded to that!” Just as “love conquers all” in the story on the stage, so love of theatre and the community allowed the production company to overcome new challenges and bring something different to Plumas County.
The current dramaworks season also includes “A Christmas Story,” opening Nov. 30, and “Fiddler on the Roof,” opening May 2, 2024. Learn more at http://www.westendtheatre.us.