We might think of the Addams Family as, say, creepy and ooky, but the one thing that doesn’t come to mind is syrupy. That quality, I’m afraid, is what sinks the touring production currently at the Majestic, the end result of four years of desperate tinkering, including different versions mounted in Chicago and on Broadway. The production now parked at the Majestic—dubbed Addams Family 2.0 by those in the know—might be less buggy than Addams Family 1.0, but what the Addams Family desperately requires is more bugs (as well as spiders and gargoyles and bats). As a musical adaptation of Charles Addams’ macabre drawings, Addams Family is perverse, all right – but in exactly the wrong way. It’s perversely sentimental.
This Addams Family was originally designed and directed by British wizards Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, whose creepy, puppet-filled Shockheaded Peter is still one of the best productions I’ve ever seen in New York. And one can occasionally see their vision at play in the current production: when a bed wondrously morphs into an enormous Gila monster and scuttles offstage—see, there aren’t monsters under the bed, they are the bed—well, that’s theatrical magic. And it’s perfectly in keeping with the satirical, off-kilter vision of Charles Addams’ original cartoons.
Show Doctor Jerry Zaks was brought in to fix things after Chicago; but Zaks’ talents are with TV sit-coms (he’s directed Everybody Loves Raymond), or bright, cartoony takes on America like Guys and Dolls. He’s a complete mismatch for the material. And the plot, too, is entirely wrong for the Addams Family: it involves daughter Wednesday (Jennifer Fogarty) falling in love with a local boy (Bryan Welnicki) and bringing him home to meet the family. (This is about as hoary a plotline as it gets.) The problem is that several numbers stress the Addams Family’s infatuation with infatuation: in fact, the opening number emphasizes that a defining characteristic of the Addams Family is “passion” and a love for one’s wife/spouse. So it’s completely baffling that matriarch Morticia, out of all people, would somehow oppose her daughter having a boyfriend—indeed, we just heard the Addams Family sing about the wonderfulness of romance, and not for the first time. A subplot with Uncle Fester falling in love with the Moon ends with a goofy production number, but that doesn’t advance the main plot in any real sense. It’s just more and more love.
Still, the actors give it their best shot: the musical certainly doesn’t fail from lack of trying. Standouts include Keleen Showgren as a leggy Morticia, and Dan Olson as a towering, lurching Lurch; a chorus of Addams Ancestors pops up for no particular reason, but there’s some talented dancing here. (I suspect that the chorus can and will be cut in future regional versions of the show; choreographic duties this time around are by the ubiquitous Sergio Trujillo.) “Set design modifications”—seriously, that’s how it’s billed—are by James Kronzer, and the touring design looks strangely flat. Andrew Lippa—best known for his terrific score for The Wild Party—contributes an odd assemblage of generic pastiche numbers, Latin tangos, and American Idol-ish ballads.
Apparently, Addams Family 1.0 featured an interspecies romance between a visiting neighbor and the Addams family’s pet giant squid (you can see a rehearsal photo here). I can’t tell you how many times last night I wished I was seeing that, instead of this later, weirdly sanitized Hallmark version. For me, the essence of the Addams family--its quiddity—inheres in its very squiddity, and that’s precisely the element so conspicuously lacking in the current production. There are occasionally amusing zingers and one-liners, but on the whole, this is a missed opportunity to bring an iconic American family to the stage.
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