Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Addams Family

Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, based on the characters created by Charles Addams
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York
(2011)

The Addams Family publicity image

In artistic and aesthetic terms, The Addams Family is hardly Shakespeare or Stephen Sondheim. However, it has audience appeal and therefore the producers have that great New York rarity, a show that can successfully make it through January this year - and possibly for several more.

The charm of the original "bizarre, macabre and weird" New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams and the big and small screen versions lies in unforgettable characters and a wickedly dark sense of humour. These days, it takes a brave director (or brace of them) to bring such a vision to the Broadway musical stage without watering it down.

Brits Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, collectively Improbable Theatre, are at their best with the comedy and particularly sight gags and illusions. The rest of the evening is very standard large-scale musical fare, which is not necessarily what the Addams Family themselves would expect or respond to.

The plot is simple enough. Young Wednesday Addams has fallen for Wesley Taylor's Lucas, a normal boy (and boy, is he normal). For 2½ hours, she battles for the right to "marry out" as it were, escaping the family's necrophiliac brand of anti-religion. That's it. The evening is then fleshed out by songs, dances and joke-telling.

The cast is led by a couple of big names. Playing patriarch Gomez, Nathan Lane inevitably times his comic lines impeccably and sings pleasantly enough. Bebe Neuwirth proves the ideal foil as Morticia, the model Goth a couple of generations before they were invented. She also shines in the company of ten ghosts in the show's big dance number.

All of the favourites are realised on stage and instantly recall the originals. In addition to Mom, Pop and Krysta Rodriguez, who is very good at catching the bittersweet pull of young love as Wednesday, Kevin Chamberlin becomes a wittily wicked Uncle Fester who has an unhealthy relationship with the moon, while Jackie Hoffman, Adam Riegler and Zachary James as Grandma, Pugsley and Lurch each amuse.

Much of the humour comes at the expense of the young man's even more normal parents, played by Terrence Mann and Carolee Carmello, who has a sensational voice that earned her a well-deserved Drama Desk nomination for the role.

The danger of a Broadway musical version of this iconic invention lies in the need to remain upbeat when the characters scream out for gloom. The musical numbers are all either jaunty or wistful, with the exception of one catchy rock ballad, Crazier Than You. Similarly, the tone is rarely as dark as one might like.

What we are left with is a popular musical with a stream of extremely funny spoken jokes and marvellous illusions, especially some magically dancing fringes (you have to see it). The Improbable set is also worth praising, since it is a thing of (dark) beauty that wonderfully evokes the milieu and manners of this creepy family.

Despite all of the reservations, the audiences keep flocking in to what has become one of the most popular tickets in the city.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher