The Addams Family

by Robert Bullen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 15, 2009

Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane in "The Addams Family"
Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane in "The Addams Family"  

That familiarly freakish family has brushed up their voices, polished their dance shoes and ratcheted up the energy for a new, multi-million-dollar Broadway-bound musical. And if you're a softie for a simple love story (with a twist, in both the narrative and physical sense), you'll be pleasantly surprised by what they've done to musicalize this positively peculiar bunch.

Book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have wisely chosen to translate The Addams Family for the stage through a very basic storyline. Wednesday (the powerhouse Krysta Rodriguez) has turned 18, and she's in love with a seemingly normal boy, Lucas Beineke, from Ohio (Wesley Taylor). When the buttoned-up Beinekes stop by for dinner, Wednesday begs her family to act "normal" for one night.

You can already see where this is going: Cue mayhem, a dancing moon, and a love-sick squid to make this visit one they'll not soon forget.

The directing and design team of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, who demonstrated their understanding of the dark and macabre in their Oliver-award winning designs for Shockheaded Peter, expertly set the tone. Of course, going into a show based on this property, you expect "ooky" and "kooky." However, I wasn't also expecting whimsy and beauty. Throughout there are moments of odd and macabre expertly paired with beautiful stage pictures--take, for example, the love song that Fester, played by the show-stealing Kevin Chamberlin, sings to the moon. Using a combination of puppetry, carefully positioned lighting and a little slight-of-hand, this number strikes the perfect blend of the beautiful and the bizarre.

Andrew Lippa's eclectic score is right in step with the off-centered tone set by McDermott and Crouch. Vaudeville, power ballads, artfully arranged choral numbers in minor keys--it's all there and, for the most part, well-suited to the actors and material. Lippa is a chameleon of a composer, which is a blessing and a curse. It's admireable that he can lose himself in a character, but I'm still not sure if I can pinpoint what makes an "Andrew Lippa score."

As the Beinekes, Broadway vets Carolee Carmello and Terrance Mann demonstrate why they are pros, but for entirely different reasons. While Carmello takes a number stuffed in the middle of a cumbersome closing first act scene and nearly steals the show, Mann is saddled with one of the worst songs in the show, which sounds a little too much like that Frank Sinatra hit, "My Way," and does what he can with it--almost making it work.

And then there's bona fide Broadway stars Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane as Morticia and Gomez. These are very much musical comedy interpretations of these beloved dark lovers. Neuwirth, who looks delicious in her décolletage-happy dress, glides around the stage with speed and grace, ready to bust out in a Fosse strut at a moment's notice. She seems a little unsure in the vocal department in most of the first act; however, her Kander and Ebb-inspired number in act two showcases her at her very best.

Lane is basically playing a more subdued version of his Max Bialystok as Gomez, yet with a lispy Spanish accent. While it's entertaining, the fiery passion, a trademark between Morticia and Gomez, is lost with this pairing (Lane looks about as convincing making out with Neuwirth as I do throwing a baseball.) Yet they are both very funny, and Lane has a lovely, gentle number he sings to his daughter in act two.

Supporting characters are luxuriously cast. Comedian Jackie Hoffman as Grandma Addams has just enough to do. (But don't tell her that: She's currently doing a critically praised Monday night one-woman show at the Royal George theatre, whining about her minimal onstage time in this show.) Lurch, played by Zachary James, only has to growl to earn a laugh, and the adorable Adam Riegler will win your heart as Pugsley.

The show, as fun and visually delightful as it is, still needs additional tightening and trimming, particularly in the first 30 minutes of act one. The busy opening number is muddled with unintelligible choral singing, and the strangely somber ghostly ancestors seem to have waltzed in to dominate a show that, in general, needs more focus on the core Addams clan.

And on a more specific note, Neuwirth and Lane's scenes and songs need to be reexamined. Their duet "Passionate and True" in act one, followed up in act two with an overly played out tango scene, do little to endear us to their circumstances, nor do they fully utilize these two actors' unique gifts.

That said, the final segment, with Lippa's beautifully dark, progressing cords, reminds us that without darkness, there can be no light, and without despair there can be no joy. The Addams seem to get that, and they are immensely happy as a result. Perhaps we can all learn a lesson here.

A native midwesterner, Robert is a self-confessed Chicago theatre addict. You can read more about his addiction at