Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Addams Family Musical

Let me tell you a little story.

I came out to New York City around the end of January. Like most first-timers, I immediately gravitated to all the touristy shit, which included several awe-struck walkthroughs in Times Square. One of my very first trips led me to a theater that was proudly announcing a new musical based on the Addams Family.

I completely plotzed. It should probably come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of Charles Addams' macabre little creation and, like many San Franciscans, I'm a sucker for musical theater. Unfortunately the show wouldn't even begin its run until after I left. I decided to stick around this town and I'd go to the theater from time to time but Broadway shows are prohibitively expensive. This past week a relative came to visit and he offered to take me to the show. I was elated.

Now, I'd heard rumors floating around that the musical wasn't actually all that good. I'm generally of the mind that where there's smoke there's fire but New Yorkers are also a cynical lot. I went to the play last night with as open a mind as possible.

I wasn't disappointed.

Okay, maybe I was a little. The first act was much, much weaker than the first one. I'm told most Broadway shows lead with their best stuff, but Addams Family saves their best numbers for the second act. Also, perhaps it's because I've been spoiled by the fantastic Marc Shaiman score for the films, but I felt like the music didn't really fit the Addams spirit. For a macabre, ghoulish family the first act's music and lyrics were a bit too peppy and upbeat.

Therein lies my fundamental problem with the musical: I felt that their interpretation of the family didn't jibe with what I understood the Addams to be. The play centers around Wednesday, who falls in love with a sensitive poet type and discovers an affinity for smiles and sunshine and icky yellow dresses. Addams Family Values had a similar conceit with Wednesday's summer camp romance to the hypochondriac, but it was clear that she was still a vile little psychopath. Here, she goes all squishy and stays that way.

That's pretty much all I have to rag on it about. Let's get to the positives.

For all the songs in the first act that didn't feel like good fits for the Addams Family, the second act contained some really strong tunes that fit the family's romantically morbid streak, in particular the sexy "Teach Me How to Tango", the touching "Happy/Sad" and the chilling "Move Toward The Darkness", which laid out the family's philosophy nicely. While I bag on the opening act, the intro song "Clandango" was a catchy tune and a great way to introduce new audiences to the joys of the Addams Family. Finally, there's a substory about creepy Uncle Fester's infatuation with the moon and all his songs are probably the best in the show. They're peppy little ballads sung by a weirdo and infused with his goofy charm.

Second, you have to see Nathan Lane perform comedy live. When I think of Gomez Addams I tend to be fixated on Raul Julia's performance, with all his suave Latin charm, bad puns, and flair for romance. Lane's performance is more flamboyant and energetic but he really plays up Gomez's punny humor to great effect. The man knows how to deliver a line and his unique inflection is absolutely hilarious. If you're even slightly a fan of the Addams clan, you have to see Nathan Lane in the role.

The rest of the family is equally stellar. Lurch lurches, Gramma cackled (and they finally address whose mother she is), and Pugsley gets up to all sorts of near-fatal mischief. Bebe Neuwirth plays Morticia, the matriarch of the Addams clan. I always thought that Morticia would be the hardest Addams character to nail down because you have to walk a fine line between imperiousness and romance and she does a beautiful job of it. Morticia is put through a sort of midlife crisis that shakes her normally unassailable confidence, and it makes for one of the more interest story threads in the piece. Uncle Fester, the family's lovable weirdo uncle, has all the best songs and Kevin Chamberlin does an awesome job.

Finally, let's talk about Krysta Rodriguez, the young thespian who portrays Wednesday Addams. I already griped that the play too out her fangs, hell, she's hot. Not the most insightful commentary, but cut me some slack. I'm not Ben Brantley.

Man, I really suck at writing conclusions.

There's a lot of stuff to like about The Addams Family Musical: it captures the family's charm, Nathan Lane is brilliant as Gomez, and there's a lot of really good songs sprinkled through it. Not everything works, Wednesday gets the short end of the stick, and there's some stuff that falls flat, but the Addams Family has a Pavlovian effect on my psyche. I'm probably gonna go see it again with a Morticia of my own...

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