Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blog Exclusive Review: The Addams Family

Creepy? Kooky? Ooky? Check, Check, Check.

Red velvet curtains and an overture? Check. Dark but gorgeous sets and costumes? Check. Whimsical use of torture instruments? Check. Nathan Lane being funny (with a Spanish accent) and Bebe Neuwirth dancing sexily (in that low-cut dress)? Check and check.

The Addams Family, the new adaptation of Charles Addams' famed cartoons that opened its pre-Broadway engagement at the Oriental last night, is pretty much exactly what you'd expect a musical version of The Addams Family to be like. But what's wrong with crowd-pleasing? The tuneful, gorgeously-produced show certainly has its flaws, but it's hard to think of them while the show's going on--you're likely to be too busy enjoying yourself.

The story is not based on the television series or either of the movies, instead putting the characters in a new story: Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez) has turned 18 and fallen in love with Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor). Morticia (Neuwirth) and Gomez (Lane) decides to invite Wesley and his parents, conservative Ohioans Mal and Alice (Terrence Mann and Carolee Carmello) for dinner, and of course revelations are made and lessons learned.

The plot outline is familiar, and bookwriters Marshall Brickman and Jim Elice don't do much new with it. But the evening's pleasure's are not in the story--indeed, it's tough to feel much emotional investment in the plot at all--but in song, performances, and sheer spectacle.

Andrew Lippa, until now best known for writing Off-Broadway's The Wild Party, has created a tuneful score in a variety of styles, from flamenco to Tin Pan Alley. It's stronger in the uptempo numbers than in the ballads, and none of the songs jump out as classics on first listen, but it's plenty of fun, and gives the cast some great opportunities to show off.

And what a talent-stacked cast! Lane and Neuwirth are the above-the-title stars, and both are quite delightful. Lane finds the tricky balance between his customary persona and Gomez' stereotypical Spanish romanticism, and swordfights with great aplomb. He's funny without slipping into self-indulgence. And Neuwirth, who looks smashing in that iconic dress, oozes sexiness--and her character's own self-regard--and when she gets the chance to dance, you can't look away. Carmello and Mann are both able to let their gorgeous voices out--Carmello's breakdown at the end of the first act is particularly amazing. Rodriguez also showcases a powerful voice and electric personality, and Jackie Hoffman as Grandma, though criminally underused, is downright hilarious.

The design is, in a word, stunning. Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, co-directors and co-designers of the sets and costumes, have created a gorgeous world. The scale is huge--you can definitely see the budget onstage--but every one of the amazing scenic effects feels utterly necessary and organic. As a result, the Addams house and surrounding areas feel like another character in the play. It's beautiful to behold.

Not everything onstage works: I've already mentioned the fact that it's hard to get emotionally involved in the play, which makes the would-be serious moments rather dull. There are two other tonal elements that feel jarring: the family is quite aware of how strange they seem to outsiders, and their home has been place in New York (the middle of Central Park, in fact). Both just feel strange--part of the charm in previous versions of these characters has been their utter lack of self-awareness, and placing them so clearly in contemporary New York just doesn't feel right. The character of Uncle Fester (Kevin Chamberlin) is also a serious issue--he has almost no part in the main plot, serving more as a commenter, and his own arc, about the love affair with the moon (don't ask), is at best distracting and at worst annoying. Chamberlin does admirable work, and much of the material is strong, but the character currently feels unnecessary, and that's a big problem.

There are other quibbles to pick, but it's already a very entertaining show, and hopefully will only improve in the next month. Sure, there's nothing earth-shattering here--it's a conventional musical comedy. But when done with such flair, and replete with so many wonderful little details, what could give more pleasure?

The Addams Family runs through January 10th at the Ford Center Oriental Theatre, 24 W Randolph. TIckets, $28-105, are available at the box office or by calling 800-775-2000 or visiting


Lauren Yarger said...

We'll see how much it has changed, if at all, when it hits New York.

Blanche said...

Where else will this show "try out" before New York? Can those of us in the hinterland catch it pre-Broadway?!

Zev Valancy said...

Chicago's it--it closes here the 10th of January, then starts previews early March in NYC. The hinterlands would have to make the trip--or see if it does well enough to tour.