When the lights dim for The Addams Family, it has a distinct advantage: From the first ubiquitous notes, the audience is snapping its fingers. Even before a single word is spoken or song is sung, the fourth wall is broken.
That kind of good will is clearly The Addams Family's raison d'etre. The show is a cheery riff on both the sitcom and Charles Addams' original cartoons, mining the well-trod themes of "normal" versus "weird," and how behind the mascara we're all the same on the inside. Go ahead, it says, let your freak flag fly. (Literally - the show includes references to Buffalo Springfield and the Grateful Dead.)
So, the good news: The audience on opening night at New Haven's historic Shubert Theater loved it. You could tell because at the end of the show, when Vic Mizzy's original TV theme music reprises, they are clapping instead of snapping.
This one weekend run, Feb. 1-3, is the kickoff of the non-equity Phoenix Entertainment tour. The show rehearsed, teched, and built sets at the Shubert, giving The Addams Family a special liftoff for New Haven audiences.
This tour is based on the Jerry Zaks overhaul of the original Broadway production, a commercial success and critical dud, that starred Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. Zaks and his creative team fixed the show before sending it on the road starring Doug Sills.
The Addams Family has a basic musical theater plot: Goth Wednesday has fallen in love and wants to marry a boy from a "normal" family from Ohio. (Insert joke about swing state here - I trust it will be deleted when the show plays overseas.) Between Broadway and the first touring production, the creative team famously added a subplot: Wednesday tells dad about her plans, but won't let him tell mom. Since Gomez and Morticia don't keep secrets, their relationship is in peril. Morticia's dream of visiting the sewers of Paris is in jeopardy.
As for The Players, this Family strikes all the right notes. Gomez is gamely played by Phoenix stalwart Jesse Sharp. (It's not his fault that I kept trying to imagine the inspiring Sills instead.)
KeLeen Snowgren's Morticia, costumed with way too much cleavage, is clearly more talented than the role she has been handed. Morticia doesn't get enough good lines, and ends up a foil rather than a participant in the ghoulishness. A little bit too much like a "normal" mother if you ask me.
Jennifer Fogarty, as Wednesday, is a fine-voiced protagonist, and brings verisimilitude to teenage daughter angst.
The supporting players keep the action moving, especially Shaun Rice as Fester, who frames the show as a moon-faced Master of Ceremonies, and gets the show's imagistic centerpiece, a beautiful scene in which he appears to take flight in a love song with the moon.
Unfortunately, no matter how much improved from the Broadway run, it is still, at its core, unsatisfying.
Andrew Lippa's music and lyrics are too generic, filled with easy melodies and few surprises, either musically or lyrically.
Too many of the show's jokes are non-sequiturs, more in line with Woody Allen characters than Gomez. "What I lack in depth I make up for with shallowness," Gomez says uncharacteristically at one point. "I can be impulsive," says Wednesday's boyfriend. "I just have to think about it for a minute." Not surprising, since Allen's former collaborator Marshall Brickman is co-author of the book.
One can't help but think that the show once had more artistically challenging goals. It is co-written with Rick Elice, now famed for his work with the lauded Peter & the Starcatcher. It was co-directed by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the theatrical innovators of Britain's Improbable Theater, who are known for their dark musical Shockheaded Peter.