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Chicago by John Olson

The Addams Family
Cadillac Palace Theatre

The Addams Family
Patrick D. Kennedy, Pippa Pearthree, Sara Gettelfinger, Douglas Sills, Tom Corbeil, Courtney Wolfson and Blake Hammond
From the beginning of this revised touring version of the musical that previewed in Chicago two years ago, it's clear the audience will get what it expects. The Overture begins with a full phrase of the familiar "duh duh duh dum (snap, snap)" from the TV series' theme song, rather than only the first four notes as they did back in 2009. It's a signal that this version will be truer to the tone and content of the original New Yorker cartoons, the TV series and two feature films, and bookwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have provided a much funnier book this time around. While the premise of the plot is the same—Addams daughter Wednesday has found love with a college student from Ohio and his family is coming to the Addams manse for dinner—Brickman and Elice have cut back much of the stage time given to the boy's parents, leaving us with more time for Morticia and Gomez. The humor comes from the macabre tone of the source material—the Addams' "bizzaro" worldview that pain is pleasurable, death is desirable and so on. Gone is the prospective father-in-law's romance with a giant squid, in is a rift between Morticia and Gomez when she learns Gomez has been hiding the news of Wednesday's engagement. Composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa has written three new songs ("Trapped" and "Not Today" for Gomez; "Secrets" for Morticia, prospective Mother-in-law Alice and chorus) to accommodate the new story line, while four songs from the Broadway version ("Where Did We Go Wrong," "Tango, Tango, Tango," "Morticia" and "In the Arms") have been cut.

The second act has all the best songs of the show in succession, including Fester's "The Moon and Me," in which he floats in the sky with his love interest—the moon—sailing above and below it. This is followed by Gomez's ballad of parenthood, "Happy/Sad," and the energetic "Crazier than You," a rock ballad which serves as the resolution for not only Wednesday and her intended, Lucas, but also resolves the conflict between Lucas' parents. With these two romantic disputes wrapped up there's time to spend with Morticia and Gomez as they settle their differences.

Though this "Addams Family 3.0" now directed by Jerry Zaks is a more expected show than the version that tried out here or the significantly revised Broadway production, its safer choices here are surer ones as well. While it lacks the audacity of elements like the squid, it contains more of the sort of humor we expect from the franchise, the jokes land better, and the show is more focused. The sometime brassiness of the original that fought with the dark ironic tone of the source material has been toned down to make this a more intimate show. Notably, Uncle Fester's catchy and vaudevillian number, "But Love," which was performed in a huge production number back in 2009, has been cut into smaller segments and downscaled considerably. Also, the sets designed by the project's original directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch are now less animated. The Chicago tryout version included the chorus of ancestors performing Sergio Trujillo's choreography on an assortment of moving staircases for "But Love," and if I recall correctly, those ancestors came to life out of portraits hanging on the walls. Though the visual design of the sets remains impressive, the special effects have been diminished, probably due to the logistical limitations of touring.

The producers have cast some seasoned Broadway pros in the leads, and though they lack the star power of their Broadway counterparts Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, Douglas Sills and Sara Gettelfinger do a perfectly fine job as Gomez and Morticia. Sills displays some hot Latin passion and a thick Spanish accent. With his powerful baritone, he has vocal ability to spare in selling the songs. Gettelfinger gets to show her singing and dancing chops with "Just Around the Corner," the new song written for Broadway in which Morticia opens act two, and both Sills and Gettelfinger have the solid comic timing needed for the dry wit of the book. Martin Vidnovic nicely plays the brusque, conservative Ohio businessman Mal Beineke, while Victoria Huston-Elem deftly handles the personality changes in his wife Alice—who has a transformation after drinking a magic potion intended for Wednesday. (Huston-Elem filled in for Crista Moore at the performance I attended.) Fester and Grandma are played effectively, if broadly, by Blake Hammond and Pippa Pearthree, while Courtney Wolfson is an aggressive Wednesday—nicely handling her "Crazier than You" duet with the similarly strong-voiced Brian Justin Crum. Patrick D. Kennedy and Tom Corbeil round out the cast nicely as Pugsley and Lurch.

In comparing the tryout version of The Addams Family to the current one, we can sense that the producers and creative team were—by hiring the innovative team of opera and theater director-designers McDermott and Crouch—going for a home run and taking creative risks that in the eyes of most New York and Chicago critics didn't entirely pay off. With this touring production, they've retreated to a safer strategy—bringing in (as they did for Broadway) the reliable musical comedy director Jerry Zaks and staying truer to the source material that is, after all, what they're selling. It all works together quite nicely now, and can take its place among the other enduring properties of this long-living franchise.

The Addams Family played the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago from December 27, 2011 January 1, 2012 as part of its national tour. For more information on the tour, visit theaddamsfamilymusicaltour.com.


Photo: Broadway in Chicago

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-- John Olson



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