Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - April 8, 2010
The Addams Family Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Based on characters created by Charles Addams. Directed and design by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch. Choreography by Sergio Trujillo. Creative Consultant Jerry Zaks. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Sound design by Acme Sound Partners. Puppetry by Basil Twist. Hair design by Tom Wattson. Make-up design by Angelina Avallone. Special effects by Greg Meeh. Orchestrations by Larry Hochman. Cast: Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Kevin Chamberlin, with Jackie Hoffman, Zachary James, Adam Riegler, Wesley Taylor, and Krysta Rodriquez, Merwin Foard, Jim Borstelmann, Erick Buckley, Colin Cunliffe, Rachel de Benedet, Valerie Fagan, Matthew Gumley, Fred Inkley, Morgan James, Clark Johnsen, Barrett Martin, Jessica Lea Patty, Liz Ramos, Samantha Sturm, Charlie Sutton, Alena Watter.
But not sing. The accompanying lyrics (“They’re creepy and they’re kooky / Mysterious and spooky / They’re altogether ooky”) are never uttered. And with good reason: Librettists Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa aren’t vamping with vampirism as much as they’re canoodling with kitsch. Charles Addams may have maintained their adventures for several decades in The New Yorker, but the clan is best known from the 1964-1966 TV series (the source of That Theme) and two movie adaptations in the 1990s, where the fright angle was not quite underplayed even when overwhelmed by vaudevillian ridiculousness.
The musical, however, is all goof and no Goth. This results in a basically enjoyable night out - at least in the limited way of self-adoringly shallow, joke-a-minute, self-referential titles like The Producers and Urinetown - but hardly a great one. Lippa’s score is his most tuneful and likeable ever, but it wears its chintziness on its sleeve. How could it not? Brickman and Elice, who also collaborated on the passable book for the hit jukebox musical Jersey Boys, have sketched out a plot of uncompromising thinness that gets the gags it craves but almost nothing else along the way.
It’s based on nothing more than a night at home in the Addams’s Central Park manse, made only marginally more interesting by Gomez and Morticia preparing to meet daughter Wednesday’s new boyfriend, Lucas Beineke, and his right-wing and square Ohioan mom and dad. Wednesday and Lucas Beineke need only convince both sets of parents that it’s okay for these very different two to be in love and get married.
This would barely fill out the A story of one 30-minute episode of the TV show (the musical runs five times that length), but there you are. So everything is completely dependent on how much you like the Addamses - who, in case I really need to tell you, also include precocious son Pugsley, antic Uncle Fester, feisty Grandma, and Frankensteinian butler Lurch - and are willing to endure their supposedly wry musings about everything dead and demented. A few laughs are sprinkled here and there, but nothing you haven’t heard before (whether from the Addamses, the Munsters, or other zombified families like the post-Urkel Winslows on Family Matters).
Can one imagine, for instance, a better Gomez than Nathan Lane? A master of juicy deadpan and shtick-in-the-mud zaniness, he’s a glorious emcee into the cobwebby recesses of Addams life. Drolly urbane one moment, and tomb-like serious the next, he keeps you forever guessing (and giggling) at Gomez’s true motives, and is the stalwart pillar that keeps his house and relatives upright.
Scarcely behind him is Bebe Neuwirth, who finds the biting humor and expansive apathy with all things living that make Morticia both a reflection and a proud representative of nuclear-family mothers everywhere. Morticia may tire of sunshine and sweetness, but as Neuwirth plays her she always deeply (if distantly) cares about her family and their well (ill?) being.
Kevin Chamberlin finds as much frantic fun as possible in Fester, though most of his songs and scenes are essentially extraneous. (His quest to consummate his relationship with his one true love, the moon, is uninvolving at best.) Jackie Hoffman is screeching perfection as the ancient Grandma who always seems to solve other people’s problems by making them worse. Krysta Rodriguez finds the right bitter distraction in Wednesday; and Adam Riegler suffices as Pugsley, though he doesn’t read nearly as sadistic as the writing seems to require.
That, by the way, is the closest things comes to suspense or surprise. “Waiting” is couched in an endless musical Truth or Dare game (called “Full Disclosure”) that seems to exist only to unveil the brooding brood’s bizarre fetishes. Most other songs are no better justified: “Pulling” is for a torn-between-worlds Wednesday to sing as she takes Pugsley for a spin on the rack, “Just Around the Corner” salutes in chorus-line style that most final of inevitabilities, “Let’s Not Talk About Anything Else But Love” is the senseless toe-tapping time-waster, and there’s a tango de morte for Gomez and Morticia to reaffirm their dying devotion to each other. (The nominal choreography is by a game but apparently uninspired Sergio Trujillo.)
Such moments, of course, are not intended to be taken seriously. The score and the book are empty-headed larks, intentionally devoid of the feelings on which real musicals (and, until now, the Addamses themselves) have traditionally been based. One senses only hints of what could have been in the sets and costumes, which carefully toe the line between presentation and parody, looking just as believable as they do unreal under Natasha Katz’s predictably twilight lighting. They’re the work of Shockheaded Peter impresarios Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, who are also the billed directors, but who were reportedly replaced after last year’s Chicago tryouts by Jerry Zaks (billed here as “Creative Consultant”).
It’s possible that Zaks’s proven comic skills have made the show livelier, but they haven’t made it special. It delivers a stronger-than-usual jolt only because of its uncommonly compelling onstage messengers, but ultimately does only what these types of musicals always do: dissect rather than connect. The burden of communing with the audience is left entirely on that famous theme song. That’s better than nothing, but if we must revisit 1964 to exhume some humanity, the likes of Hello, Dolly!, Funny Girl, and Fiddler on the Roof delivered it with more laughs, tunefulness, and sincerity than The Addams Family musters at its most fondly nightmarish.