I had heard not-so-great things about the new musical version of The Addams Family from my Chicago blogger peeps, as well as from numerous students and readers. The main complaints seemed to be that the show didn't have much of a plot (and what plot it had seemed borrowed from La Cage aux Folles), that Andrew Lippa's score was bland and unmemorable, and that the show's story was focused too much on irrelevant characters.
When I saw The Addams Family in previews in mid March, the only fix the creative staff seemed to have made was in redirecting the focus of the show to shine firmly on the family. Otherwise, the show represented a reasonably funny but ultimately pointless and undistinguished night of musical theater.
The opening curtain met with a thunderous ovation from the faithful in attendance, mostly because the creators had made the wise choice to fork over the bucks to for the rights to the insidious and iconic theme for the TV show. But there were also considerable plaudits for the show's stars, Nathan Lane as Gomez, and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia. If only the show itself had been worthy of their admitted collective talents.
It's certainly no secret that the show's directors of credit -- the idiosyncratic Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (Shockheaded Peter) -- were unceremoniously shunted aside after the show's less-than-spectacular Chicago tryout. Reportedly, Nathan Lane demanded, and got, his old pal Jerry Zaks to come in and punch things up a bit. The main contribution of the "directors" seems to be the show's design concept, which features a modular set of staircases, which are fun to watch the cast move but ultimately distracting.
The show also features an ingenious mobile curtain setup that almost seems like a character itself, and provides some visual focus to the scenes as well as physical coverage for set changes. There's also a rather elaborate visual setup for a second-act number in which Uncle Fester (the always wonderful Kevin Chamberlin) proclaims his amorous attachment to the moon. But designers as directors? Have we learned nothing from Julie Taymor? Much like The Lion King, The Addams Family comprises some interesting visual elements, but not much in the way of dramatic cohesion.
The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) features some fairly frequent laughs, and some of the jokes are quite sharp and topical. But it's not clear how much of that may have been the work of, or at the urging of, uncredited director Zaks. The result is a bunch of decent one liners connected by a contrived plot lacking any engaging or believable drama, and saddled with forced complications and pat resolutions. In brief, the Addams daughter Wednesday comes home and announces that she's going to be married, and that Gomez and Morticia had better be on their best behavior when the future in-laws come to visit. Needless to say, havoc ensues. ("The best of times is now. What's left of summer but a faded rose...")
What's more, the story represents an unconvincing morass of forced subplots and lame narrative conceits. Bebe Neuwirth is saddled with what is probably the least interesting and justifiable narrative thread. During the entire show, she frets about growing older. And that's just about it. Bebe gets a couple of would-be showstoppers, including a tango with Gomez, but they weren't working when I saw the show in previews. Otherwise, she just frets. I'm not a huge Bebe Neuwirth fan (I've heard too many stories about how she treats her cast members and production staff), but there's no question she's a talented woman who deserves better than what she gets in this show.
As for narrative conceits, at the start of the show Uncle Fester raises the Addams ancestors from the dead, only to tell them that they can't return to the grave until love triumphs. Really? In a musical about the Addams Family? Cuz, other than the fact that dead people are involved, that seems about as far from an Addams Family conceit as you'd be likely to devise. Plus, it's just not very interesting or compelling.
Besides its flat, jokey book, The Addams Family is saddled with decidedly undistinguished songs from Andrew Lippa, who wrote the Off-Broadway The Wild Party and a few new songs for the revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The Addams Family score features one lackluster, stop-and-sing, solo character song after another and not nearly enough ensemble work. The procession grows wearisome, indeed. The one fun tuneful number, "Full Disclosure," comes at the end of Act 1, by which time I had sort of given up anticipating anything of real distinction musically. Choreographer Sergio Trujillo seems to work overtime to give the show some life, but his style here is more MTV than Charles Addams.
As I said, there's considerable merriment to be had at the Lunt-Fontanne, particularly in the performance of Nathan Lane as Gomez, but also from the always hysterical Jackie Hoffman as Grandmama. The show seems to be selling like gangbusters so far, with weekly grosses well above $1 million. But will that continue after the reviews come out? Does this show have enough of a built-in audience, based on its stars and its source material, to make it review-proof?GRADE: C- (Essentially, this season's Shrek. Strong performers and lotsa larfs, but forgettable score and forced gaiety.)