Sunday, April 25, 2010

Review of "The Addams Family"

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.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review of "Lend Me a Tenor"

Funny. Very funny. That’s the best way to describe the revival of Ken Ludwig’s 1989 farce, Lend Me a Tenor. Featuring an A-List cast, the comedy incorporates many of the characteristics of classic farce—improbable situations, mistaken identities and a hefty dollop of physical zaniness.

Tony Shalhoub plays Saunders, the General Manager of the Cleveland Opera, who has hired Italian tenor, Tito Merelli, portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia, for a high-priced fundraising event. Of course, soon the best laid plans begin to go awry, which sets the madcap plot into motion. Shalhoub, as the high-strung and bombastic impresario, Saunders, is a pure joy. His slow burns, over-the-top histrionics, and comedic timing are priceless. LaPaglia plays more the straight man in the show, but his portrayal of the bloated, pompous, and overly sexed, “Il Stupendo,” is exuberant and flamboyant. His ying to Shalhoub’s yang is integral to the production’s success. The other “name” actor is Justin Bartha, making his Broadway debut and better known as Nicholas Cage’s sidekick in the National Treasure movies as well as the sunburned groom-to-be in last year’s smash, The Hangover. Here, as Max, playing a slightly wimpish assistant to the overbearing Saunders, Bartha comes off a bit too wooden, not appearing as comfortable as the theater veterans that populate the show. Still, his Max is endearing and, in the end, a winning performance.

The rest of the cast--Mary Catherine Garrison, as Max's starry-eyed girlfriend, hopelessly pining for a romantic tryst with Merelli; Jennifer Laura Thompson, as a flirtatious diva; Brooke Adams, as a daft chairwoman of the Opera Guild; and Jay Klaitz, as a pushy and overbearing bellhop--are equally as good. The standout is Jan Maxwell, as Merelli’s long-suffering wife. Not only does she get to overly emote and wail away at her two timing husband, but she also has the opportunity for some physical theatrics.

Stanley Tucci, making his Broadway directorial debut, keeps the action lively and allows his cast to broadly attack their roles. He has a fine sense of the comedic craft and demonstrates this deft ability throughout this side-splitting production.

One added delight is the show’s setting. The Music Box Theater is a small, intimate house perfectly suited for two hours of rollicking fun.

Lend Me a Tenor, a pure delight and welcome addition to the New York stage.