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All in the family


Halfway through the second act of Webster Theatre Guild's Friday night staging of "The Addams Family," fire alarms began to scream through the auditorium and halls of Webster Thomas High School. The action onstage ceased, and the house lights flipped on as more than 200 attendees reluctantly made their way into the chilly, clear October air. There was no danger of a fire; the disruption was simply caused by an over-exerted fog machine that was creating spooky Transylvania effects.

The 20-minute fire alarm interruption happened around 9:30 p.m., just late enough for families to be tempted to stay inside their warm cars and head toward home. Many families were also standing outside, with children awake far past their normal bedtimes and excitedly pointing at the fire truck that roared into the parking lot. The "second intermission," as one parent told their fidgeting child, was unexpected.

"The Addams Family" is a relatively new musical with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa ("The Wild Party," "Big Fish") and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice ("Jersey Boys"). The show opened on Broadway in 2010 and featured Nathan Lane in the role of family patriarch (and narrator) Gomez. It's a kitschy, corny ride that immediately breaks the fourth wall, and the entire two-hour show is based on the premise of daughter Wednesday falling in love with a boy at school and inviting him and his parents to dinner.

The show normally features a small to mid-sized cast, perhaps 15 people at most. In Webster Theatre Guild's version, directed by George Barberi, the ensemble alone consists of nearly 30 Addams "ancestors" -- on top of about 10 lead roles -- who all perform intricate choreography by Mandi-Lynn Griffith-Gurell during select songs. It's an ambitious amount of people to cast, but makes sense in the context of community theater. More cast members means more loved ones to fill seats and laugh at each scene (which Friday's audience did with great enthusiasm).

The technical time spent on "The Addams Family" shines through every scene, from the innovative, multi-faceted set design (constructed by many of the cast members) to the elaborate costume design (of more than 30 completely white outfits, along with a flawless Addams Family aesthetic) by Peggy Zorn.

Leading the cast as Gomez is Steve Marsocci, a frequent local performer who has a flair for characterization and a pleasant singing voice (fortunately, since Gomez leads a fair amount of the musical numbers). Opposite him is Kate Bond as Morticia, who started the night a tad robotic but quickly warmed into the role of the frosty, sensual Addams matriarch. The leading couple has a natural chemistry that makes their eventual conflict as well as the loving scenes between them even more believable. As love-struck daughter Wednesday, high school junior Tessa DeGrace is at once earnest and deadpan, owning the stage with her impressive vocals during songs like "Crazier Than You."

Other especially notable performances come from Aaron Grippo (Fester) throughout the show; Robin Morris-Gaylord (Alice) for an exhausting, hilarious end to act one; Ann Rhody (Grandma) for the frequent comic relief; and John Caboot (Lurch) as the sleeper scene-stealer.

The one hiccup during the night (other than the accidental fire alarm) came from the pit orchestra, which at times seemed like it couldn't hear the vocalists (and vice versa), resulting in a few flat pitches and botched harmonies. And while Webster Thomas High School seems like a nice, recently upgraded venue, it's simply not built for full-scale musicals with large sets and more than 40 people on stage, the way Geva or The Auditorium Theater are. It constantly felt as though the cast would spill off the stage into the pit.

After the West Webster fire crew finished its walkthrough on Friday night, the alarms were turned off and the crowd trickled back inside to watch the rest of the second act. At the end of the performance -- which concluded around 10:30 p.m., about 30 minutes later than it normally would have -- there was a standing ovation, and the mostly full auditorium was, surprisingly, still mostly full.

It wasn't that the show itself was too mind-blowing or suspenseful or expensive to abandon during the fire alarm, but that the folks in the audience were deeply engaged with the people on stage -- their mothers, brothers, grandparents, friends, neighbors, teachers, students --performing dream roles and small roles alike. Cellophane-wrapped bouquets from Wegmans had to be handed out, selfies had to be taken, hugs and congratulations had to be given. This is the beauty: the family of community theatre.