Before the curtain even goes up on The Addams Family, the excitement in the house is palpable. Just the sight of the family behind iron gates brings thunderous applause. And when Nathan Lane, as father Gomez Addams, steps forward, he has to wait for the cheering to stop before he can speak.
Every gag (and there are a lot of them) is met with raucous laughter; for once, the now nearly mandatory Broadway standing ovation seems totally sincere. You can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been if only the show were better.
Part of the problem is the plot. There just isn’t much. A family of weird ghouls lives in a big, creepy house filled with ghosts. The formerly forlorn teenage daughter Wednesday falls in love, turns cheerful, and wants to get married. A dinner is arranged for the two families to get acquainted. Mayhem ensues.
Unfortunately, in this production, Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez) is not much different than any young girl attending the show. She’s bland and unremarkable when she should be super Goth; kids at the local high school have black nails, multiple piercings, grungy clothing. To all this, Wednesday should have added an air of doom, with a hint of mad sexuality beneath the surface. Where is Christina Ricci when you need her? As is, we see detached become happy, and it’s just not enough contrast to move the plot along.
In fact, this show suffers from straddling the fence, stuck between bizarre happening and standard Broadway musical. Why not go over the edge with it, and give us a new Rocky Horror Picture Show for the 21st Century? It might be less commercial, but I for one would applaud seeing a good dose of daring on the stage. Less predictable, more electrifying. And while we’re at it, it would be great to finally get some memorable music; that alone would set The Addams Family apart from nearly every other musical launched in recent memory.
Is it worth recommending? Absolutely. As the father, Gomez Addams, Nathan Lane leads the cast with the greatest of ease, and incidentally, looks smashing in a smoking jacket. Who could possibly do deadpan Morticia as well as Bebe Neuwirth? Kevin Chamberlin brings a sweetness to Uncle Fester, and is always engaging. The much underrated Broadway vet Carolee Carmello channels the Carol Burnett of old, and turns Wednesday’s future mother-in-law into a compelling look at what’s really going on in the soul of “the missus.”
The biggest treat of all is Jackie Hoffman. Every time she hobbles onto the stage as Grandma, she’s completely hilarious. The old girl hangs onto reality by a very frayed thread, and every word, song, and batty look is the opposite of golden. She is decrepit to the point of being—yes!—a cartoon character. And isn’t that exactly what we came for?
There are plenty of yuks in the show; slapstick, special effects, slight of hand, you name it. There are topical references galore; one of the best lines involves the current health care debate. And there are some truly original and funny bits, like having Death twirl his scythe like a baton.
A lot of the laughter comes from recognizing the theater gags: the sung goodbyes from The Sound Of Music, and a play on “Maria” from West Side Story. I loved the line that is so New York, “Bright colors are for people with no inner life or imagination.” Amen, sister. And a real note was struck with every exasperated parent in the audience when Grandma proclaims her take on modern youth, “ Stop the damned texting and pick up a book now and then.” It brings down the house, and well it should.
And may I say, it’s a pleasure to attend a Broadway musical which doesn’t require earplugs. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to not have my eardrums shattered by the over amplification that proliferates.
So, my advice is to see it now on Broadway, with the original cast, and enjoy it for what it is; a creative vision that falls short, with great actors who play it better than it actually is.
Because, as my companion so rightly observed, in the not too distant future, it will be presented by every high school drama department in America. And that, my friends, is a truly scary thought.
The Addams Family, Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 West 46th Street
877-250-2929 or Ticketmaster.com
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, International Association of Theatre Critics, Dance Critics Association, and National Book Critics Circle. firstname.lastname@example.org. michalljeffers.com