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The Addams Family

Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth give terrific performances in this somewhat misguided musical, based on the cartoons by Charles Addams.

Adam Riegler, Jackie Hoffman, Bebe Neuwirth, Nathan Lane,
Kevin Chamberlin, Krysta Rodriguez, and Zachary James
in The Addams Family
(© Joan Marcus)
Despite the discouraging words about The Addams Family that circulated as it prepared for its Broadway run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, this new musical adaptation of Charles Addams' gleefully contrary cartoons hasn't turned out to be a complete calamity -- although it comes perilously close to becoming one at times.

The prime rescuers of this somewhat misguided operation are its above-the-title stars: Nathan Lane works every one of his formidable performing tricks and frequently succeeds as Gomez, the dapper Addams patriarch, while Bebe Neuwirth, in long wig and cleavage-focused black gown, plays wife Morticia with sly conviction.

There are also numerous amusing acting turns (notably Kevin Chamberlin as lovestruck Uncle Fester and Zachary James as butler Lurch) and a handful of knee-slapping topical jokes by book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Many of designer-directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch's ghostly production values are also inspired. And some credit must belong to veteran director Jerry Zaks, who was brought in during the Chicago run as a creative consultant.

So what's the problem? Since Addams' images are essentially one-off gags about a group of self-appointed pariahs who take joy in the perverse, Brickman and Elice were required to create a cohesive story. And while the pair has proven imaginative thinkers in the past, they've avoided anything ingenious here, hitting instead on a thud-worthy and surprisingly familiar tale: the one where a member of an eccentric family -- in this case now-teenaged daughter Wednesday Addams (Krysta Rodriguez) -- falls for someone from a conservative family.

It's not long into the first act when the stick-in-the-mud, straight-from-Ohio Beinekes -- dad Malcolm (Terrence Mann), mom Alice (Carolee Carmello), and son Lucas (Wesley Taylor) -- come for their first visit to the Addams mansion (now located in the middle of Central Park). And naturally, the eccentric Addams clan (including Jackie Hoffman's stringy-haired, acerbic-tongued Grandma and Adam Riegler's Pugsley) must try to fake being normal. They can't, but that's okay, since the guests soon realize they've been uptight too long and eagerly change their strait-laced ways.

Making matters worse for the enterprise, Brickman and Elice simply run out of plot by the second act. The rest of the attenuated show is reduced to a series of numbers in which you sense everyone is keeping their proverbial fingers crossed. "Tango de Amor," choreographer Sergio Trujillo's snappy dance for Morticia, Gomez and the ever-present spectral chorus, and a loopy number about Fester's infatuation with the moon that Chamberlin does floating about (as if introducing a companion-piece to "The Man in the Moon (is a Lady)" from Mame) are the best of the batch.

Still, it hardly helps matters that most of Andrew Lippa's score is generic at best -- and too often derivative or even embarrassing. While one might be happy to hear "Let's Not Talk About Anything Else But Love" again; such abysmal tunes as "Waiting," "Crazier Than You," and "In the Arms" (in which Carmello and Mann must chant about squids) are definitely not worth a second listen.

Indeed, only a handful of theatergoers are likely to find The Addams Family worth a second visit.


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