I really wanted to like The Addams Family. Really, I did. The promise of a big, splashy Broadway musical with a great cast and solid creative team credentials was tantalizing. Unfortunately, The Addams Family is a lifeless, dare I say, bore. The show starts off well enough with an inoffensive, mildly amusing production number, “When You’re an Addams,” but then it’s all downhill from there. Two reasons. First, the two stars, Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, are given no material to work with. Second, the musical’s book, by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, Tony Award winners for Jersey Boys, is disjointed and flat with one lame joke followed by another.
The plot centers around the Addams’ daughter, Wednesday, and her desire to marry a gee-shucks boy from America’s heartland. To impress his visiting family the Addams are ordered to act normally by the love-struck girl. Interestingly, when these words were uttered I immediately thought of another show with this premise, a musical called La Cage Aux Folles which, coincidentally, just opened on Broadway in a scaled down revival. Also, who was in the Americanized movie version of the original French farce? Nathan Lane, one of the stars of The Addams Family. But, I digress. As I stated, the story is ineffective and feeble with none of the creepy pleasures we've come to expect from this macabre family. The writers couldn’t have come up with a better premise? Worse, the attempts at humor are so off-the-mark. I simply cannot remember a musical, in recent memory, where the deficiencies in the book are so evident.
What compounds the problem is the lack of substance for the two stars of the show. A musical featuring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth should be an event to cherish. Both are seasoned, Tony winning actors that, in the past, have brandished a swagger and style that have kept audiences enormously entertained. But here, playing the roles of Morticia and Gomez Addams, Neuwirth and Lane are saddled with very little to do. I was waiting for Nathan Lane to let loose with his character, to have fun, and meld his musical comedy and vaudevillian sensibilities into another memorable portrayal as he has done so well in such productions as A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum and The Producers. In The Addams Family, practically nothing. It was like watching someone in a strait jacket unsuccessfully trying to break free.
In Bebe Neuwirth you want to see her dance. She’s a dancer—remember her performances in Sweet Charity and Chicago—but in The Addams Family there is literally zippo, zilch, zero—you get my drift--until her “Tango de Amor” just before the closing curtain. Yes, the end of the show. Not the beginning. Not the middle. The end. Who’s to blame? Well, Sergio Trujillo is the choreographer of record.
I also felt sorry for theater veterans Terrence Mann and Carolee Carmello as the parents of Wednesday’s affection, Mr. and Mrs. Beineke. They have been so marvelous throughout their careers it is too bad they have to be weighed down with such bland and insipid roles. They deserve better.
The score by Andrew Lippa is lackluster at best, providing no opportunity for any of the actors to shine.
The directing/design team of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch score no real points on the directing side, but big points on the design end. But, this is just another nail in the coffin when the look and feel of the sets are one of the most memorable aspects of the production.
Is there any redeeming value to The Addams Family? Kevin Chamberlain as Uncle Fester and Jackie Hoffman as Grandma are highly entertaining and bring a slightly off-kilter slant to their characters. That’s about it.
The Addams Family, dead on arrival, now at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.