By: Patrick Christiano
From audience reaction the new musical The Addams Family, based on the beloved cartoon characters created by Charles Addams for the “New Yorker” magazine in 1938, is destined to be a long running smash hit. With the opening strains of the overture we hear the spectators clapping and snapping along with Vic Mizzy’s familiar theme song from the cult classic television show.
Then the red/purple velvet curtains opens revealing an eye popping scene, where we see the entire perverse clan in a ghoulish graveyard setting, and the laughter begins before even a single word is spoken. The look with a glowing moon dominating the eerie setting is utter perfection and the opening number “When You’re An Addams” sung by the family with a chorus line of ancestral ghosts emerging from their crypt gives the evening a gleefully flashy start.
The production directed and designed by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the wizards behind the blissful dark Shockheaded Peter, looks divinely macabre and they have assembled a top notch cast headed by two time Tony Award winners, Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, as Gomez and Morticia, the heads of The Addams Family.
The story has their 18 year old daughter, Wednesday (a dynamic Krysta Rodriquez) hopelessly in love with a sweet square, Lucas Beineke (a solid Wesley Taylor), from a respectable Ohio family. The plot line follows a theme often found in the television show, where ordinary outsiders coming into the bizarre Addams’ world are disturbed by what they find. Wednesday wants her parents to “act normal” for just one night to make a good impression on Lucas’ parents by hosting a dinner party. When Gomez and Morticia discover to their horror that Wednesday has her heart set on marrying Lucas, they wonder “where did we go wrong” and the tone shifts as they begrudgingly attempt the charade by showing their loving side.
Now this is The Addams Family, where doom and gloom are ordinary, so we know nothing will go smoothly. When the Beineke Family arrives at the mansion, now set in Central Park, Mal (Terrence Mann) comments “What is this some kind of theme park?” And as a real estate investor quickly realizes the value of tearing the place down. The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the team responsible for the smart Jersey Boys, has many moments taken directly from the cartoons, but the story is little more than a series of Vaudeville song and dance vignettes strung together on the thin romantic plot line.
However, the witty tale does give every member of the stellar cast a moment to shine. Uncle Fester is a delicately demented stand out as an evocative sentimentalist in love with the moon. His delivery of the lovely, “The Moon and Me,” is a highlight of the evening, which captures the perfect tone needed to let the production soar. Grandma (an outrageous Jackie Hoffman) is an over the top loony tune as a mean acid head from Woodstock. Lurch (a perfectly zany Zachary James) is tall, darkly cool and introspective as the butler, and Pugsley (Adam Riegler) makes a nice impression. But Alice Beineke (Carolee Carmello) is a scene stealing riot at the dinner party with her rendition of “Waiting,” which is part of the smashing first act finale.
The choreography by Sergio Trujillo is just fine and gives Bebe Neuwirth a moment to lift up her skirt and show off her beautiful legs (she looks marvelous as Morticia) in a tango with Nanath Lane "Live Before We Die."
The spirited score by composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party) encompasses a variety of styles and there are a several fantastic numbers like “Full Disclosure,” the dazzling first act finale, and “Crazier Than You,” a deliciously amusing duet sung by the young lovers. The emphasis is on love conquers all, which gives the musical a refreshing dichotomy to the family’s sinister surface, and the stylish lyrics underline the juxtaposition adding an unexpected heartwarming appeal.
Special kudos to the ingenious puppeteer Basil Twist, who created The Squid, a central character here, as well as an oversized iguana, a Venus fly trap and an amusingly animated curtain tassel. But Nathan Lane is the star of the evening and despite all the splendid support, not only is he in excellent voice, he makes the most of his every single moment on stage. One could say Mr. Lane is “one in a million,” and his performance is easily worth more than a million. I don’t know what they are paying him, but I seriously doubt it’s hardly enough!
The Addams Family
205 West 46th Street