It seemed like the perfect formula. Take a beloved story that has already been translated into a successful television show and film, add some well-known Broadway actors and a star or two for good measure, throw in a gorgeous set and poof: you have a successful musical. Right?
Sadly, this recipe did not work for The Addams Family, the bloated Broadway machine playing at the Lunt-Fontaine Theater. The idea sounds great on paper, and the sets look great onstage, but the musical itself seems to have gotten lost in translation and was not found in time for opening night.
With a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, The Addams Family is an original story centered around the daughter, Wednesday, a teenager who has fallen in love with Luke, a – gasp – normal boy from Ohio. In order to introduce their introduce their family members to each other, Wednesday and Luke arrange a dinner at the Addams mansion. Hilarity inevitably ensues, but not without numerous bumps on the road.
Thankfully, some of these bumps are smoothed or at least made a bit more gentle thanks to the cast, a glittery ensemble of star power, comedic genius and promising newcomers. As head of the family, Nathan Lane proudly plays Gomez Addams as an effortlessly flamboyant, fun-loving patriarch who is endlessly proud of his heritage and properly shocked when his daughter begins behaving strangely – for example, keeping the rosebuds on the stems of the flowers instead of ripping them off and throwing them to the ground. Pouty and paternal by turn, Lane is clearly having a fine time onstage, tossing the script’s one-liners left and right and landing each of them with a resounding thud. Many of the moments of comedy are drawn out longer than usual, but that only encourages the audience to keep laughing.
Resplendent in a long black gown and equally long black wig, with porcelain skin, Bebe Neuwirth is an ethereal Morticia Addams, Gomez’s wife. Despite her unusual appearance, Morticia suffers from an extremely common mid-life crisis, questioning her worth as a wife and mother and lamenting the fact that she has never seen the sewers of Paris. Neuwirth, a skilled comedian and legendary dancer, does what she can with the part, but there isn’t much to work with. Her one solo, “Death is Just Around the Corner,” does not provide her with much opportunity to showcase her famed talents. When she and Lane tango together at the end of the show, Neuwirth’s satisfaction that her talents are finally being put to use is apparent.
One would expect a master thief necessary to steal a scene from Lane, a known comedian with a boisterous presence, but Jackie Hoffman’s stooped, withered Grandma just does that without even resorting to proper posture to do so. Hoffman, known for her hilarious turns in Hairspray and Xanadu, plays the wacky, eccentric, senile woman to a pitch-perfect level, even causing the cast members to laugh while onstage.
As Wednesday, Krysta Rodriguez presents a unique perspective on the character, giving her a sense of innocence and maturity, that has not existed in previous presentations of the infamous Addams daughter. Her first-act solo, “Pulled in a New Direction,” showcases her strong vocals despite the weak lyrics, and her fervent begging of her family for “One Normal Night,” invokes a familiar feeling of dread from anyone who has brought a significant other home to the family for the first time. Her duet with Luke (Wesley Taylor), “Crazier Than You,” is a highlight of the show, with the two actors achieving a truly unusual, but undeniable, chemistry.
Unfortunately that chemistry is not shared by Luke’s parents, portrayed by Terrence Mann and Carolee Carmello, who play a husband and wife in a distant marriage that is helped by a very willing squid (don’t ask). While both deliver solid performances individually. (Mann is especially entertaining in an uncomfortable trio with Fester and Gomez and Carmello’s first-act mental breakdown is, um, entertaining, to say the least). However, together they are a lackluster couple.
Kevin Chamberlain’s Uncle Fester is a humorous and endearing narrator, but the side-plot about his romance with the moon is unnecessary, despite the impressive acrobatics he exhibits onstage. And Zachary James is a quite satisfactory Lurch, making the most of an un-dead character.
The true star of the show, in this critic’s opinion, is the sets, which are nothing short of spectacular. They invoke the “creepy” and “kooky” of the title song and are impressively mobile, despite their mammoth size. Large staircases, voluminous entryways and eerie oil paintings move easily on and off the stage, with the help of a few ghosts of the Addams ancestors. Entertaining performances by puppets also take place throughout the show, and Cousin Itt and Thing make cameos as well.
But, despite all the elements, the show just doesn’t add up. The romantic, love-struck plot, the “Father Knows Best” element of the story and the chaotic mixture of songs simply don’t combine to form a good play. No shortage of talent or effort went into this show, but, sadly, it doesn’t come out.