“The question was what kind of show we were going to create that was going to sustain a two-and-a-half-hour Broadway musical. The underscoring was the word ‘family.’ We were writing about a family. Despite the dark inversions and the comedy from thoswe inversions, the primary thing was that we’re telling a story about people.” -Addams Family Composer Andrew Lippa.
(Photo from Vanity Fair.)
The Addams Family: A New Musical, currently trying out in preparation for a Broadway run, is an old-fashioned musical.
Charles Addam’s beloved family of folks obsessed with the darker side of life have been paired with a classic plot. Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez) has turned eighteen and is in love with Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor) a normal boy from Ohio. When it’s suggested that the Beinekes come over for dinner so the families can get acquainted, all hell breaks loose. It’s not based off the movie, and it’s not based off the TV show. This show takes it’s inspiration from the original Addams drawings, and it’s a really smart move that opens up the characters to all sorts of adventures rather than forcing actors to do impressions of past portrayals.
The book, by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, treats these familiar characters with love and affection. A few of the jokes could be tighter, but previews are just beginning and I have great faith that there’ll be moments tweaked. (I’ve heard it said that “if Nathan Lane can’t make it funny, it ain’t funny,” and there are a few moments he only recieved lukewarm giggles from the friendly crowd rather than the uproarious laughs probably hoped for.) On the flip side, when the comedy is good, it’s good. (And if you need an example of that, please see Jackie Hoffman as Grandmama. For real.)
Andrew Lippa’s score is a smart mix of several styles of music. As Uncle Fester serves as a practically vaudevillian narrator, his songs are very classic Broadway (and even accompanied by a banjo a few times), whereas eighteen year old lovers Wednesday and Lucas’ music is much poppier and modern. When Morticia gets her big second act showstopper, it’s clearly designed to sound Kander and Ebb-ish, and there are strains of strings and spanish guitar riffs in the duets of Gomez and Morticia. Many of the songs are very strong, though a few parts could use a little reworking. (While the “One Normal Night” sequence is quite good, it gets a little jumbled with the choral arrangements.)
The show was directed and designed by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, who were the team responsibile for the gloriously creepy Off-Broadway hit Shockheaded Peter, and they’re clearly right at home with this material. Their direction of the actors is solid and commendable, but pay special attention to the set design and you’ll see where their real talents lie. The Addams House (inside and out) becomes a character in the show itself, and watching the choreography of set pieces, curtains, and the occasional monster is a joy to behold. May these two find themselves with a Tony for Set Design shortly. It’s a wonder. Seriously.
Sergio Trujilio’s choreography is lively and interesting to watch, and I have to applaud his creativity in figuring out how these characters would dance. Nothing ever seems out of place for any of the characters.
(Photo by Joan Marcus.)
But, lets not lie…. it’s the cast thats drawing people in to the show, namely top-billed leads Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia Addams. Oh, how these two deliver as promised.
Nathan Lane has wisely avoided impersonating Raul Julia or John Astin in his portrayal of Gomez, instead opting for a strangely Spanish-esque accent that actually works, particularly as he talks about all his long-named ancestors. Nathan Lane is one of musical theatre’s great treasures, and he’s clearly just having a ball in this show. He gets a wonderful second-act ballad called “Happy/Sad” and delivers it with great heart, and in great voice. (I would have enjoyed it even more had the dumb girl beside me NOT chosen this silent and sweet moment to unwrap what seemed like 3000 candies. Really, candy is allowed in theatres? We can’t stop eating for 2.5 hours? Don’t get me started.)
Bebe Neuwirth is very good as Morticia, though she seems shaky on her first big song “Passionate and True.” When she warms up, around the middle of the first act, and gets more into the dark sensuality of Morticia, she runs away with it. I have no doubt that as the show gets closer to opening and things are solidified, she’ll be completely fine. Meanwhile, if you have Bebe Neuwirth in a show and don’t think she’s going to get to do some serious dancing, you’re crazy. That’s all I can say without spoiling things.
Despite the presence of these two massive Broadway stars, the show is an ensemble piece and everyone gets to shine near-equally. This is a good thing, as the rest of the cast is doing really commendable and strong work.
Kevin Chamberlin, simply, IS Uncle Fester. As the evenings narrator, he’s quirky and sweet and provides one of the strongest performances in the show (and, again without spoiling anything, perhaps one of the most adorable sub-plots I’ve ever seen in the theatre.) Krysta Rodriguez, as Wednesday, is wonderful – She’s got a great big voice, and is a great find as her complicated character. Broadway comedienne extraordinaire Jackie Hoffman is Grandmama, and you just wait for her to show up, knowing the laughs are coming. Adam Riegler is adorable as Pugsley, invoking “awws” with his big song. Zachary James gets the giant task of playing the slow-moving, dull-roaring butler Lurch, and is fantastic. Just watch the moment when he slowly goes across the room to answer the door and try not to laugh. I dare you.
The ensemble, playing the ghosts of the Addams ancestors, are all over and look like they’re having a blast and a half. Sometimes, I find the insertion of choruses distracting, but I have to say this group added so much to the evening, I can’t imagine the show without them.
Special note must be made of the two Broadway veterans drafted to play Mal and Alice Beineke, Lucas’ “normal” parents. Terrence Mann and Carolee Carmello are grand in their roles. Carmello, in particular, plays a perky housewife at the start of the show, but as she unwinds – watch out, world! This woman has one of the most powerful and fantastic voices in the world. Mann is the epitome of the straight man, which could have left him as ” the boring guy,” but he deftly avoids that, and his character gets a huge payoff.
Technically, the show is still in previews and the real opening is set for (I believe) next week. I would love to see the show again before it leaves Chicago for Broadway, just to see what changes are made to the script and score. With a cast this fantastic, and a design team this clever, I wish this show only the best.
It was an absolute joy to watch, and I recommend it (even pre-minor-tweaks) to anyone.
I’d like to say more, but there are so many magical moments and surprises, I wouldn’t want to give anything away…