The Addams Family National Tour
Book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice
Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Original Direction by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch
Production Supervised by Jerry Zaks
at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford through February 26
At first blush, a musical version of Charles Addams’ twisted Addams Family should seem like a sure thing. Based on the popular cartoons found in The New Yorker, the family has haunted multiple television series and two smash film adaptations. The Addams Family came to Broadway with great anticipation and much excitement after a hit engagement in Chicago. With a star-studded cast and an accomplished creative team, success seemed fairly assured. So why did the show receive such a nasty critical beatdown and a quick death (something any real Addams would adore) after original stars Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane departed?
Much has been made of the creative overhaul the show has received to make it a hit on the road. Legendary director Jerry Zaks has been brought in to provide “production supervision,” songs have been jettisoned and new ones added. I cannot rightly say if these constitute an improvement as I did not see the original Broadway musical. I can only judge the show by its merits in its current incarnation and it feels like for every treat there is a trick. Whether or not you prefer tricks or treats separates the Addamses from the rest of us.
And therein lies the big problem with The Addams Family musical. Charles Addams’ kooky, ooky family was meant to be the flipside of the Cleavers or the Bradys. With macabre gallows humor, they manage to be a delightfully united front in the face of the oddness that is a “normal” family. While we all fear death, the Addams embrace it. While marriages lose their passion and settle into quotidian life, Gomez and Morticia are still on fire for one another. Where most families would pooh-pooh their children torturing one another, it is considered child’s play Chez Addams.
The plot is fairly benign. Wednesday Addams, the daughter of the clan, has fallen in love and wants to introduce her family to his family. Hilarity should ensue.
When the musical opens, Wednesday is wrong from the start – she is a bratty teen showing emotions! Then, Morticia starts offering sound maternal and wifely advice. Pugsley whines. And Gomez starts responding the way most husbands would. In short, The Addamses are acting like us, which, in a word is wrong. The moments where the musical adheres to usual Addams world view, it works. Take Morticia’s hopeful “Death is Just Around the Corner” song and dance accompanied by the Grim Reaper and a chorus of the undead. It makes sense, at least at 0001 Cemetery Lane (the family’s TV address, the musical transplants them to Central Park, which makes no sense). Then take Gomez’s lovely “Happy/Sad” where he sings the type of song any father would sing to his daughter in a Broadway musical. Not in my Addams Family, you don’t.
The funniest moments in the show generally adhere to what we expect of these eccentrics: the appearances of Thing, Cousin Itt and Lurch. Gomez showing off his torture chair from the personal collection of Torquemada. Wednesday torturing Pugsley on a stretching rack. Ah, family. There are many visually clever moments in the show and most of these come, one would assume, from the original directing team of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the Tim Burton-esque minds behind the Off-Broadway hit Shockheaded Peter, and master puppeteer Basil Twist. One of the show’s highlights is the incredibly creative midair ballet for Uncle Fester and the moon.