Review: “The Addams Family”

The Addams Family, which began it’s pre-Broadway run at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre on Wednesday, is a very enjoyable musical with terrific performances from several of the actors. But the musical has two problems: it is too long and the characters are underdeveloped, even though there is too much exposition for the family that many people are familiar with.

To clarify, the show isn’t really too long; it simply feels too long. The musical follows the familiar macabre family that was created by Charles Addams as they spend one night trying to entertain (and act normal) around the family of Wednesday’s (Krysta Rodriguez) love interest, Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor). The Beineke’s are very conservative Ohioans and a foil to the Addams, giving the show a plot very similar to La Cage Aux Folles.

The musical, which presently clocks in at about two and a half hours, has a lot going for it. As Morticia, Bebe Neuwirth is very refined, elegant and dark and gives a terrific performance in a role that is saddled with a weak plot about Morticia worrying about looking old and being upstaged by her children, which she sings about in the showstopping, “Second Banana.” Neuwirth is not upstaged by either Rodriguez or Adam Riegler, who plays Pugsley, and looks quite fabulous in the low-cut, form fitting black dress she wears throughout the show. Nathan Lane does as best as he can with what he’s been given with the role of Gomez. At many moments, Gomez is a suave man with a Spanish accent and a love for swordfighting and torture instruments. But at other moments, he seems like an immature individual who laughs at his own jokes, which are lost to Mal Beineke (Terrance Mann). The moments where Gomez is the romantic yet demented Spaniard are the moments where Lane has some of his finest moments and that personality is shown in both the numbers “Passionate and True” and “Happy/Sad.”

As for several of the other actors, they are giving performances that are so good that it seems as though their characters are underused. Riegler manages to even be a bit adorable as Pugsley, who laments the possible loss of being literally tortured by Wednesday. As Grandma, Jackie Hoffman is really given nothing better to do than say lines at the end of act one and act two that old characters have been saying in comedies for several years and is hilarious because of her delivery of these lines. In a scene between her and Pugsley, Hoffman acts like a sweet old woman before dropping her voice to tell Pugsley to stay out of her stuff. At the present moment, Uncle Fester (Kevin Chamberlain), acts as a bit of a narrator and commenter, but is also saddled with an odd plot line about being in love with the moon. Even though his number “The Moon and Me” is very tender and uses old theatrical methods to create the illusion of him being near the moon, the plot line suddenly comes out of nowhere towards the end of the show, making it seem very abrupt and lacking in the emotion needed to really draw the audience to the character’s problems. And as Lurch, Zachary James is on stage for only a few scenes and only does much of anything in about three of them, but is very funny as he walks slowly and speaks in low, slow sounds.

Mal and Alice Beineke (Carolee Carmello) suffer from coming into the show late in act one and being rushed through their plots as they suffer a transformation. While Mal’s takes more time and is much more straightforward—although how his passion for his wife is rekindled is disturbing—Alice’s transformation is just downright confusing. Carmello sings a number entitled “Waiting” at the end of act one and while she puts quite a bit of energy and emotion into this number, it comes off as being a hot box of crazy with muddled, incomprehensible lyrics, which may have been difficult to understand since I was sitting in the front row and very close to the 17-piece orchestra. But she sings a very emotional song about waiting, collapses on the table and then tries to find a way to rekindle her romance with her husband. All of this occurs in a short time and feels very contrived because of that.

But above all, the Addams family is overly aware of their oddity, while in Charles Addams’ cartoons and in the TV series and the films, their behavior was to them perfectly normal and the rest of the world was odd. Although, since Wednesday is reduced to little more than an angsty teenage girl in this musical, her over-awareness of her abnormality is understandable.

As for the length, this is the result of quite a few numbers going on for too long of a time. The opening number, “Clandango” is very energetic and busy, but it felt like it went on for several minutes as the actors did a lot of dancing and never really seemed to explain what exactly a clandango was. Another number, “Let’s Not Talk About Anything Else But Love,” is very sweet, but then turns into a bawdy dance number for no explicable reason, other than to maybe pump up the sexual frustration between Wednesday and Lucas. If the number ends before the dance sequence, it works very well.

As for Wednesday and Lucas, even though their conflict is what causes the events of the night to begin, it feels as though there is too much time spent on them. Either that, or Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book is filled with too much of Wednesday and Lucas’s dialogue consisting of Lucas saying something and Wednesday responding with “That’s hot” for their problems to really matter because their lines and problems are now very clichéd. Rodriguez also gave a very monotonous, robotic performance in the first act, but loosened up by the second act.

Andrew Lippa’s score, although in need of some pruning on some numbers, utilizes a wide variety of musicals styles from flamenco to power ballad to pop rock that sounds terrific when played by the orchestra. Co-directors and co-designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch have a grand, majestic set for the family’s house that almost is a show in itself as it moves around to show the exterior, the interior and the various rooms with several panels and doors and windows for the characters and Basil Twist’s elaborate puppets to enter and move around on. It is a rare instance where a set can be very extravagant but seem necessary and work beautifully with the play without being a distraction.

The Addams Family is certainly kooky at this moment. But with some pruning of the numbers and some more development of the characters, the show could also be creepy, mysterious and spooky and altogether ooky.

“The Addams Family” runs through January 10, 2010 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theater at 24 W Randolph St. Tickets range from $28 to $105 and can be purchased at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, by calling 1-800-775-2000, or by going on to http://www.BroadwayInChicago.com

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I did not pay for a ticket for this show.

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6 thoughts on “Review: “The Addams Family”

  1. Krysta Rodrieguez was awesome. What show did you see?

  2. Hmmm, sounds like they need to do some trimming. Sounds like they’re trying to pack so much into this. And I agree – they definitely should “not” be aware of their oddity! I mean, that’s kind of crucial. I know what you mean about characters being underdeveloped, too. I think a lot of shows are afraid to spend too much time on a character and really allow the audience to get to know them. And I’m very interested in seeing the set and puppets! Still hoping to see it in New York in the spring.

  3. I’d like to direct your attention to this post Chris Jones wrote on his blog for the Tribune:

    http://leisureblogs.chicagotribune.com/the_theater_loop/2009/10/what-show-did-you-see-how-performances-vary-from-night-to-night.html

    If you also read the reviews that are out, all of the critics have found different flaws with the show and while they might have some consensus on some things, they don’t completely agree about the show on a whole.

  4. It would be very hard for me to see this as a musical. The television show Defined the roles of Gomez and Morticia for me, and the first movie Defined Wednesday for me. It would be hard for me to see other actors (even actors like Lane and Neuwirth, of whom I am fond) interpreting them.

  5. Esther, the odd thing was that there was a lot of exposition in the show, but there was, as you said, not a lot of time spent on the characters.

    Doug, I could see where you would have that problem. There are somethings that are similar to how Morticia and Gomez are in the series, but for the most part, the characters seem to be new creations.

  6. […] Tonight, The Addams Family opens on Broadway. I had reviewed it when it was in Chicago for the out-of-town tryout and had huge issues with the play. Since there was going to be some tweaking done to the play and Jerry Zaks had been brought in to […]

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