The Addams Family
Broadway welcomes the classic, creepy cartoon clan.
Mon Apr 12 2010
AWE IN THE FAMILY Neuwirth and Lane, center, preside over a scary household.
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
If all happy families are the same, and each unhappy family is unique, where does that leave the Addamses? The perverse and popular cartoon mnage lives by the law of opposites. It delights in decrepitude and surliness, upending any tradition or act of decency. Wednesday and Pugsley are raised to be ill-mannered beasts. Morticia abhors pretty flowers. Gomez blithely abandons patriarchal rule. Those spooky, ooky freaks grin at chagrin. But we know their dirty secret: In its moldering misery, the grim, Gothic household is a loving exemplar of family values.
For a Broadway megamusical that celebrates antisocial behavior and schadenfreude, The Addams Family inspires mixed emotions. It's a night of pleasant, clever songs and sly jokes, charming performances and swoony visuals—but the whole never soars to the heights we now expect of a bona fide blockbuster. Don't brace yourself for the pop-fantasy spectacle of Wicked or the ruthless comic proficiency of The Producers. Instead, The Addams Family is a Frankenstein creature: adult and juvenile, idiosyncratic and generic, grandiose and homey. Maybe that's its triumph: Not even this household is sick enough to settle for straightforward razzle-dazzle.
But such tonal fuzziness could also be a result of creative shuffling behind the scenes. As has been reported, out-of-town tryouts were troubled, with veteran hand Jerry Zaks (credited as "creative consultant") brought in to assist codirector-designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch. It's hard to pinpoint Zaks's tweaking of the staging, structure or comic business, but maybe he was tapped to make the show slicker and more accessible to tourists—perhaps even to Lane and Neuwirth themselves.
For those familiar with McDermott and Crouch's Victorian music-box-of-horrors, Shockheaded Peter, the look and occasional feel of this production will conjure up fond memories. In the second-act number "The Moon and Me," lunatic Uncle Fester (lovably ghoulish Kevin Chamberlin) serenades the moon while wearing a 1920s swimming suit, strumming a banjolele and swooping through the night sky courtesy of low-tech stage illusion. This moon sequence is pure McDermott and Crouch.
Elsewhere in the production you can savor the team's flair for the quirky-dark: from the foggy graveyard locales to the requisite crumbling interiors of the Addams manse. Basil Twist's ingenious puppets lurk around the periphery—a giant lizard squirms beneath Pugsley's bed, a sliced-off tassel comes to life and sprints away.
These flashes of dry visual humor help offset the feeling that too many songs have been glued to characters and remain disconnected from the book. Bebe Neuwirth's one major number, "Just Around the Corner," has a Kander and Ebb tang, but its placement comes across as perfunctory. Nathan Lane fares better by his wry paean to ambivalence, "Happy/Sad," which is actually a smart, touching ballad.
In outline, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's book is neat enough, using the "Addams versus the outside world" conceit as the basis for a tale of lovers with mismatched parents. Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez) is aged up so she can fall in love with straight-arrow college boy Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor). Hoping their families will bond, Wednesday begs Morticia and Gomez (Neuwirth and Lane) to act normal for just one night. Of course, when the uptight suburban Beinekes (Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello) show up, magic potions, a supernaturally generated storm and the giant squid in the basement complicate matters.
Jokes run the range of inspired (urban versus heartland cultural mores) to expired (potty-mouthed grandma gags). But at least the A-list cast delivers their laugh lines with aplomb and zest. Lane's twee Spanish accent grows on you, and Neuwirth displays her patented, meteorology-defying hauteur: the colder she gets, the hotter she seems. In the Beineke subplot, Mann and Carmello have too little material, but they prop up the story like troupers.
Lippa's score doesn't break any ground, tooling around in pastiche mode with some excursions into guitar-driven pop numbers for Wednesday. But at least the graves that Lippa plunders are interesting ones—classical Spanish guitar, Straussian aria, vaudevillian sing-along.
You can complain that Neuwirth doesn't have enough to do, that Jackie Hoffman's gum-flapping Grandma deserves a number, that mixing key elements from Charles Addams's drawings, the 1960s TV show and the recent movies has led to a watered down, unspecific Addams universe. Yes, The Addams Family could have been funnier, edgier and more grotesque, but it's not the crass, theme-park disaster that some say it is. After the notices have turned to dust, this lumbering, mumbling, alternately sweet and creepy behemoth will rise from the tomb to stalk the land.