The Addams Family originally came to life in 1938 as a series of one-panel cartoons drawn by Charles Addams for The New Yorker. Since then the creepy, kooky group has existed in nearly every possible pop-culture medium: television series, movies, Saturday-morning cartoons, and even video games. So really it was only a matter of time before the characters were adapted for the stage and turned into a splashy Broadway musical. With the characters' already over-the-top, theatrical nature, you'd think the stage would be a perfect fit. You'd think wrong. Sadly, the beloved Gothic family is ill-served by the toothless, middle-of-the-road Broadway entertainment they've been shoehorned into.
If you have any doubts as to whether "The Addams Family" are still a much-loved institution of American pop culture, your answer came immediately at the opening-night performance of "The Addams Family" musical (performed at the Auditorium Center through Sunday February 10). The second those familiar harpsichord notes of the theme song started playing, the entire audience was instantly laughing and snapping right along with them.
From the beginning, the fun of the Addams Family (made up of Gomez and Morticia, their children Wednesday and Pugsley, along with their Uncle Fester, Grandmama, and devoted housekeeper Lurch) has always been in the way that their morbid outlook, murderous impulses, and vaguely defined supernatural abilities somehow seem completely wholesome. They're a functionally dysfunctional family whose values simply involve doing the exact opposite of what "proper" society would suggest. Misery is bliss to this family. So it's rather distressing to see several members of their clan, particularly the women, acting completely out of character in a plot that feels lazily cut-and-pasted from one of a hundred cliched family sitcoms.
Wednesday Addams (for some reason now cast as a young woman in her late teens, while her brother, Pugsley, remains a child) has fallen in love with a respectable young man by the name of Lucas Beineke. They've secretly gotten engaged, and have decided the time is right for their two families to finally meet. Of course, this is easier said than done, as the Addams are, well, the Addams, and the Beinekes are an all-American family from Ohio. Needless to say, the families don't mesh well, leading to supposedly hilarious complications. Inexplicably, the Addams mansion has been relocated, for the purposes of this show, to the middle of Central Park. This seems largely so that the writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, can equate the family's strangeness with the differences between liberal, urban New Yorkers and conservative middle-Americans. When Mal, the Beineke patriarch, threatens to storm out toward the end of the first act, he screams that he's taking his family back to "the real America."
Aside from the fact that I had a hard time believing Wednesday would ever fall for a boy as boring as Lucas, the musical at first has her dressing in bright colors and imploring her family to behave so they can have "One Normal Night" and impress her beau's family; this essentially discards most of Wednesday's defining characteristics. She admits in the song "Pulled" that she's being "pulled in a new direction," and doesn't know whether to stay true to everything she's been taught by her family, or try to have a "normal" life. Further complicating the situation is the fact that she's confided in Gomez about being engaged, but asks that they hide this news from her mother, for some reason or another. Of course Morticia immediately suspects that her husband is keeping things from her, leading her to opine about how she gave up her dreams to raise her family and furious with Gomez for keeping secrets from her. Typically portrayed as a strong, sexy woman, this is a depressing treatment of Morticia's character. I can't help thinking that secrets and mystery are something Morticia would actually get behind. There's also an incredibly silly side plot involving Uncle Fester falling giddily in love with the moon (yes, literally) but the less said about that, the better.
The cast has a lot of enthusiasm and make the most of the limp material they've seen saddled with. Jennifer Fogarty is quite good as Wednesday, belting out her numbers with gusto, though perhaps overselling it at times. Jesse Sharp lends Gomez a likably daffy energy, and KeleenSnowgren is especially strong as Morticia. The sets and costumes are predictably impressive (I enjoyed the "Haunted Mansion"-esque costuming of the ensemble, appearing as the Addams' ever-watchful ancestors), if not always as spectacular or inventive as they might have been. By far, the highlight is the stage's large, red curtain, which is used rather cleverly throughout the show as a framing device, splitting off portions of the stage so that each scene gets its own unique vignette. There were a few minor tech issues at the performance I attended, including several instances of mics cutting out and at least one set that got snagged on its way onstage.
The show is jam-packed with songs but, aside from a couple legitimately catchy melodies, none of them are particularly memorable. They're not done any favors by their haphazard staging, which often leaves the characters standing around while they sing and, as my viewing companion noted, neither the music nor lyrics are strong enough on their own to not have anything else happening during them. Somewhat hilariously, the show on several occasions resorts to characters announcing, "dance number!" as a segue into the larger production numbers.
In the end, "The Addams Family" feels like a production that's had all its edges sanded off over the course of its journey to the stage, ironically leaving it as exactly the sort of lively, inoffensive, blandly wholesome (though clearly crowd-pleasing) entertainment that the Addams' themselves would absolutely despise.