The Addams Family
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, music and lyrics Andrew Lippa from the cartoons by Charles Addams
Aria Entertainment, Music and Lyrics, Jason Haigh-Ellery and Guy James
The Opera House, Manchester
The Addams Family TV show transformed the macabre but hilarious single-gag newspaper cartoons by Charles Addams into an off-centre comedy. It provided the template for movies and feature-length animations that came close to, but did not really equal, the quality of the original.
The Addams Family musical takes the same approach; assuming a degree of prior awareness on the part of the audience and using an issue with which parents will be familiar—a child growing up and wanting to rebel—to create dramatic conflict. Once a year, the Addams family pay respect to their ancestors by dancing on their graves and raising them from the dead. As you do. But at the end of the ceremony, Uncle Fester (Scott Paige) refuses to allow the ghosts to return to their graves until they help resolve a crisis that faces the family. The marital bliss of Morticia (Joanne Clifton) and Gomez (Cameron Blakely) Addams is threatened when the latter conceals their daughter Wednesday (Kingsley Morton) intends to marry Lucas (Matthew Ives; stepping in an making a strong impression), a perfectly decent but conventional boy from Ohio.
The TV series and the cartoons are held in high regard and there is the possibility the creators of the musical may have coasted a bit and relied on this affection. There are a number of ‘spooky’ songs that might have set the style for the score from the goofy (Bobby "Boris" Pickett’s "Monster Mash") to the downright disturbing (Leon Payne’s "Psycho") but Andrew Lippa takes a middle of the road approach and, despite the occasional Spanish tone reflecting Gomez’s ancestry, his generic score would be suitable for any musical.
As the source material was a series of single-gag cartoons, it is perhaps appropriate that, at times, the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice resembles a collection of punchlines. These work best when paying tribute to the original—Gomez amazed his spectral wife, encased head-to-toe in a tight black dress, actually has a pair of legs. Too often, however, the script slips into very funny but standard gags (‘’My mother? I thought she was your mother!’’). Only the revelation Uncle Fester is in love with the moon could be considered truly weird.
There is, however, nothing half-hearted in the performance of the cast. The vocals are full-on from a completely committed cast.
Director Matthew White stuffs the show with every possible sight gag—the glacial procession of Ryan Bennett’s Lurch across the stage becomes a running joke; spooky sound effects echo around the theatre whenever someone suggests playing 'The Game’. Yet other ideas are not as successful. Apart from the final dramatic duet between Clifton and Blakely, much of Alistair David’s choreography is limited to the cast adopting ‘zombie’ poses. The use of the ancestors as a chorus works only occasionally—especially in Morticia’s "Just Around the Corner"—and the characters appearing on the turrets and conversing across the stage becomes static.
The Addams Family does not so much pay tribute to the source material as rely upon it to prompt a positive response from the audience, but is well worth seeing for the committed performances of the cast.
Reviewer: David Cunningham