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'The Addams Family' casts a spell

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Entertainment,Theater

"What's normal for the spider is a calamity for the fly." So declares Morticia Addams, and our perspective of all things "normal" is proffered as just an illusion. Then again, it's the magnificent, morose illusions that bring all manners of giddy delight in the "The Addams Family."

This incarnation of "Addams Family" features a brand-new tale by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise, whose cheeky book is laced with cringetastic jokes and seedy pop culture references, covering everything from Charlie Sheen's stints in rehab to universal health care and the New York DMV -- there's even an obscure nod to the ladies of "Grey Gardens."

But their barely original story wastes no time on further character development or needless exposition -- we know this household of lovable eccentrics well enough -- and so this "Addams Family" fantasia jumps right into the thick of its own plot.

Set in modern-day Central Park, N.Y., Wednesday Addams is all grown-up and ready to marry. She thinks she's found "the one," a wholesome Ohioan whose parents are coming to dinner. But when the would-be mother-in-law drinks from a mysterious chalice intended for Wednesday, secrets are revealed and the gruesome truth threatens to unravel both families.

Onstage
'The Addams Family'
Where: The Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW
When: Through July 29
Info: $39 to $115; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

And did I mention that Uncle Fester is in love with the moon?

With sumptuous scenery and costumes designed by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott (who also helm the show with Jerry Zaks' oversight), the entire evening is presented as charming musical comedy, buoyed by Andrew Lippa's hummably bright score. This is classic Lippa, all lively up-tempo melodies covered in lush orchestrations that fill the Opera House with merry macabre.

Most enchanting is his "The Moon and Me" number, a lilting ode to lunacy delivered by Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond) flying across the dark night sky. It's this kind of unexpected treat that weaves a strange, beguiling magic on the stage.

Cortney Wolfson is an aptly anguished Wednesday, exuding youthful exuberance with her telltale taste for torment. And Patrick D. Kennedy's Pugsley hits all the right notes, whether he's writhing in pain or conspiring against his older sister. Douglas Sills provides a fair simulacrum of the memorable Raul Julia alongside Sara Gettelfinger's lanky matron Morticia, and Tom Corbeil steals several laughs as the buttling Lurch.

The whole affair is decadent, dazzling fun -- an unconventional and quirky bash that's surprisingly light for such a dark family.

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