Perhaps because I arrived at the Keller Auditorium prepared to hear overzealous actors mangle a touchstone of American pop culture (which didn't exactly get good reviews on Broadway), I was pleasantly surprised by the touring Broadway production of The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy. So was the packed audience around me: the laughter and applause was enthusiastic and constant.
Based on the original single-panel comics by Charles Addams, it touches base with true devotees to the original macabre and morbid family. Fans of the television series will also be delighted by the musical’s allusions to the very first episode of the show (Morticia plucks the rose flowers off the stems and sticks the thorny stems in a vase; Uncle Fester puts a bulb into his mouth and it lights up). Jokes about Obamacare, the New York DMV, and Charlie Sheen bring the family into the 21st century, and give those who may not be so familiar with the show something to chuckle about.
The company blazes onto the stage with the opening number, “When You’re an Addams,” a re-introduction to the family. The plot is then set up: Wednesday, played by Jennifer Fogarty, is bringing a boy home and wants her family to be on their best behavior. She tells her father, Gomez (Jesse Sharp) the truth about the situation—Wednesday and Lucas (Bryan Welnicki) are in fact engaged—but asks him to keep it secret from Morticia (Keleen Snowgren), which of course comes back to haunt him.
Midway through her first number, “Pulled,” Fogarty displays both a show-stopping voice and an impressive ability to maintain her character’s quintessential angry glower even as she experiences love for the first time. With the appearance of four brightly colored birds, the number veers frighteningly close to Disney princess territory. Then when Wednesday accidentally claps one between her hands, she shrieks and the sappy chorus comes to an abrupt halt. After a moment of stunned silence, she flops the bird back and forth to make certain that it is dead, and the audience bursts out laughing. I breathed a sigh of relief, glad that director Jerry Zaks had stayed the line of morbidity.
Despite Wednesday’s prodding to her family to act “normal,” we know disaster will ensue when the Addams meet the the fiance’s family—a saccharine mother (Blair Anderson) and her stereotypical white-collar, middle-aged American husband (Mark Poppleton). Lucas, the supposed love of Wednesday’s life, is surprisingly bare-boned as a character. He provides the impetus for the entire plot, but has barely any lines, and only participates in one musical number with Wednesday. But no matter, because you didn’t buy tickets to hear about this other family, right?
The second act proves less coherent, mainly because it’s a mere patching up of all the romantic tiffs set up in the first act. However, Morticia’s “Just Around the Corner” is humorously morbid, and in her tango number with Gomez, actors Sharp and Snowgreen demonstrate serious chemistry. The company finale, “Move Toward the Darkness,” features Lurch’s deep baritone for the first time in the musical. It’s a perfect finale to a musical that walks a tightrope between the light and the dark.
The Addams Family
Thru June 30
It’s understandable why one might be skeptical about a musical interpretation of the much-loved Adams. For a family who lives for dark, dreary, thunder and lightning-filled nights, isn’t the concept of the bright, lively musical morally reprehensible? Though the musical comedy seems like a form that could have destroyed the very essence of the Addams, they maintain the character traits we know and love about them. For all their flesh-eating plants and monsters under the bed, they treat the darkness with a sense of humor and humility, and this works well in musical form. Beneath all else is the comfortingly familiar tale of America’s favorite “unhappy” family.