Family Drama Keeps ‘Addams Family Musical’ Afloat

20 01 2010

Music and Lyrics: Andrew Lippa

Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice

Based on: Charles Addams’ comic strip The Addams Family

Starring: Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Krysta Rodriguez, Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Kevin Chamberlin

Opens: April 8, 2010 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in New York

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re all together ooky, and not particular musical – The Addams Family. Duh duh duh duh *snap, snap*

The Broadway-bound The Addams Family Musical, recently closed its curtain at the Oriental Theater in Chicago after a 2-month tryout.

Based on the cartoons by Charles Addams, the musical follows the lives of Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester and Pugsley as they celebrate the coming of age of daughter Wednesday and all the family drama that entails.

The house, while it still may be a museum where people come to see them, has been transported to the middle of Central Park, which provides the rich backdrop of twinkling lights from the city during outdoor scenes and a clever way to get long dead family members involved in the action – they’re buried outside.

Led by the venerable patriarch of modern Broadway – Nathan Lane playing the sultry, tango-loving Gomez – the cast is comprised of seasoned veterans like Bebe Neuwirth (“Cheers,” “Fosse”) as the lithe and dangerously gorgeous Morticia, and fabulous new-comers who seem to have a long career ahead of them likeĀ  Krysta Rodriguez, who plays Wednesday. There’s even an appearance by Thing, the disembodied hand from the cartoon.

The drama of the play comes when the newly de-pigtailed Wednesday brings her boyfriend Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor) and his decidedly un-creepy and kooky parents home for dinner. As can be expected of any 18-year-old in the same position, Wednesday is worried that her family will do something to embarrass her, especially as her family finds joy in the dark and dismal. She begs for one night of normalcy, but with the Addams’ family life is anything but as Pugsly begins to feel left out, Morticia worries her youth is slipping away, Gomez wants his little girl back and Wednesday herself is conflicted with the new emotion of love.

The play opens with a bang as the entire family dances the “Clandango” while Wednesday goes through her transition from girl to woman, but quickly falls flat as it is explained that Wednesday has met Lucas and Uncle Fester (Kevin Chamberlin) states his desire for the evening – “Let’s Not Talk About Anything Else But Love.”

The Addams Family as television viewers will remember is resurrected for a brief time in the next few numbers as Wednesday deals with her frustrations at the conflicting feelings of love and the macabre by torturing an ecstatic Pugsly, and Gomez can’t keep his hands off his seductive wife. The tempo of the entire play and the emotions of the audience are peaked when the iconic theme song is introduced all to briefly as a way to transition to the dinner party.

Once the Beineke’s are introduced, however, the Addams Family as we know it disappears for some time as the physical interactions between the characters is put on hold for a number of perfectly delivered one-liners by Gomez.

It’s enjoyable to see Wednesday and Lucas sneak around the house – masterfully recreated in a movable, staggering set which adds volumes to the ambiance of the show – as love-struck teenagers, but the meat of the script comes from Gomez’s interactions with Mal Beineke and Morticia’s with his wife, Alice. If Gomez and Morticia have their way, there will be more than one set of lovebirds leaving the house at the end of the night as they try to rekindle the passion in the Beineke’s marriage.

If the play continued as written, it would have been masterful, but those pesky musical numbers which always seemed to fall flat began to pop up once again. The show-stopper, “Full Disclosure,” was hum-worthy as the show went to intermission, but the second act, with the exception of Morticia’s longing “Second Banana” at the beginning, lacks a centerpiece song to hook the audience and Gomez and Morticia’s tango, meant to be a pivotal moment in the play, interrupts the flow of the act and leaves the audience wondering when it will be over.

The true beauty of the play is the script, filled with one-liners based on pop culture and innuendo. Lane’s comedic timing is spot on as he delivers punchlines, and Carolee Carmello, who plays Alice, proves to be a great drunk.

The most classic one-liner from the New Years’ Eve show came from the underutilized Grandmama (Jackie Hoffman) who’s role in the rest of the play seems to be unclear. She had the audience – and the cast – rolling in the aisles as with an delectably inappropriate reference to “Dick…….Clark” and his Rockin’ New Year’s Eve special.

Also notable about the Dec. 31 show, was the unexplained absence of Ms. Neuwirth. Her understudy, Rachel De Benedet, performed wonderfully for being thrown into the spot light at the last second (as Nathan Lane announced at the end of the show as he heaped praise upon her). She hit all of her marks, had a strong voice and a killer pair of legs, and seemed to embody Morticia as she glided across the stage.

There are quite a few kinks to work out of the production before its previews at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on March 8 and its opening night on April 8 – most notably the music, clarifying character personalities and strengthening the second act – but its outstanding ensemble cast and their relationships is the true reason to see the show.

Final grade: The Addams Family is a very good play, but a bad musical