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A CurtainUp Review
The Addams Family
By Elyse Sommer
But feeling most content when feeling unhappy, doesn't prevent The Addams Family from being a ferociously feel-good and critic-proof musical for the whole family. It doesn't matter whether you come to it with your memory bag packed with images from the movies or TV show or the pages of the New Yorker. Though the show takes its inspirational cue from the original cartoons, the characters on stage will tap into whatever your memory source with simultaneously pleasurable familiarity.
No worries about being left scratching your head if you've never seen or even heard of these characters and their dark and often ghoulish preoccupations. The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice of Jersey Boys has a new plot. Well, not all that new, in that it uses 18-year-old Wednesday Addams' romance with an un-Addamish, "normal" boy from Ohio as a set-up for a dinner party that has the initially fish-out-of-water parents almost out-Addams their hosts. It's a cheeky, and undoubtedly intentional, mash-up La Cage Aux Folles, You Can't Take It With You, Meet the Parents and The Rocky Horror Show. No matter, these characters are unique enough not to need more than a hook on which to hang their zany antics.
Brickman and Elice's conceit and composer Andew Lippa's lyrics manage to create a vivid picture of the Addamses' weird ways from the moment the curtain rises and Gomez Adams and his luscious wife Morticia ("she of the skin so pale, eyes so black and dress cut down to Venezuela" ) belt out "When You're an Addams." As the rest of the clan chimes in, this über-dysfunctional family's ticks and shticks have even people who tend not to laugh out loud cackle away.
Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth are, of course, the show's box office magnets, and the star dust that surrounds them is pure gold. Lane is in particularly fine form, with his drolly expressive face and his remarkable timing, plus a hokey Spanish accent that never falters. He's also in excellent voice.
Neuwirth brings a deadpan wryness to the slinky Morticia. Lucky for us, her role has been expanded and enriched to capitalize on her distinctive singing and dancing. Forget rumors you may have heard about backstage rivalry between her and Lane. As their first big duet, "Where Did We Go Wrong." proves, their onstage compatibility couldn't be better. "Just Around the Corner" teams Neuwirth with the ghostly Ancestors who leave their caskets regularly to showcase the skills of the designers and Sergio Trujillo's choreography. The big, penultimate number "Tango de Amor" with Gomez and the company, turns the long-legged Neuwirth into a magnificent mermaid.
Happily, Neuwirth and Lane get terrific comic support from the ensemble. Most notably there's devilishly droll Kevin Chamberlin's moon loving Uncle Fester and Jackie Hoffman's show-stopping 102-year-old grandma. At one point during the performance I attended Hoffman even had her onstage colleagues struggle to control their own chuckles. She also set off gales of laughter when she responded to torture-loving grandson Pugsley's (Adam Riegler) complaint that he doesn't understand her references to Mary Poppins and Medea with "Well, stop the damn texting and pick up a book once in a while." The script is peppered with other sly zingers which, if the audience at the performance I attended is any indication, will go over big time — though devotees of the New Yorker cartoons are likely to find some of the jokeyness incompatible with the subtleness of the Charles Addams characters.
Not to be overlooked is Zachary James as the super-sized Lon Chaney like butler, Lurch. While it's Wednesday's hankering for the boy from Ohio (Wesley Taylor) triggers the plot complications, the role is written to make Rodriguez come off a bit too bland to be a true blue Addams.
The addition of the non-Addams family overloads the cast but Broadway stars Carolee Carmello and Terrence Mann are good enough to make the Beinekes add to the overall hilarity — she as the compulsive rhymer Alice whose name prompts one of Brickman's and Elice's funniest referential laugh lines. . .Mann as Mal, the business man who also has a few quirks ready to burst loose from the Babbitt persona.
Good as all the performers are, they come close to being upstaged by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch's ingenious stage version of the Addams mansion which has been located to Central Park (complete with a skyline view). It's full of pop-up surprises and amazing props that include a giant squid (one of puppeteer Basil Twist's stunning contributions).
This is a big, old-fashioned Broadway musical with a fair share of real show tunes. The ghoulishness notwithstanding, Lippa has managed to include some pleasing ballads. As for the production, it features every theatrical bell and whistle you could wish for. Smoke rises from the stage from the moment the curtain opens. As a matter of fact, the curtain doesn't just open but is given its own amusing dramatic fillip. For a pleasant change the amplification is restrained so that every word of the lyrics can be heard.
Unlike Grandma and Fester, you don't have to feel compelled to howl "AA-OOH" at the smell of blood to have a bloody good time at this exhilaratingly silly show. It has all the ingredients to make it the season's de-rigueur mortis ticket: a new but not too new plot. . .a well-known brand name. . . a talented cast and designers. . .sensationally splashy scenery and props . . . witty lyrics. To go back to this review's beginning, just suppose that at the end of the show Gomez were to ask the audience " Are you unhappy?" More than likely they'd shout "No, no, no. Completely happy!"