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NY Theater Reviews

Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane/ Ph: Joan Marcus



Despite the immense talent thrown at this production, it falls short of the concise, quirky world of the characters and misses with the music.

In the overture, and again at the very end of The Addams Family, we hear a snippet of the catchy ditty that opened the TV series based on Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons. Sad to say, none of Andrew Lippa’s songs for this expensive new Broadway musical are nearly as catchy or memorable. Even worse, the songs are all over the map stylistically, so the music is as inconsistent as it is dreary. This Addams Family is bizarre all right, but not in a good way.
Given the talent involved, it’s a shame. Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth costar as the morbid heads of the family, Gomez and Morticia Addams. Kevin Chamberlin is well cast as Uncle Fester, and Jackie Hoffman layers on old-age makeup to play Grandma. In addition to Lippa (The Wild Party at Manhattan Theatre Club), the creative team includes book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (coauthors of Jersey Boys), director-designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (Shockheaded Peter), choreographer Sergio Trujillo (Memphis), and “creative consultant,” a.k.a. show doctor, Jerry Zaks (winner of multiple Tony Awards).
Unfortunately, all that talent doesn’t combine for an entertaining show. The main culprit is Lippa’s dreary score. When the too-normal daughter, Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez), and her boyfriend Lucas (Wesley Taylor) sing, their pop-rock ballads sound like they belong in Legally Blonde. When the company sings an old-fashioned number like “Full Disclosure,” Lippa seems to be aiming for a Producers-style crowd pleaser.
The staging isn’t much better. A chorus of ancestral ghosts sings and dances to little effect. Besides filling the stage and making the show even more expensive, their main function seems to be to move around parts of the hulking set. (Since they wear ghost makeup, they also make the very pale Neuwirth look slightly less pale.) Trujillo’s choreography is fairly generic, and the direction by McDermott, Crouch and Zaks isn’t inspired either.
Lane tries his best to work his comic magic but largely falls flat. It doesn’t help that the jokes about his Latin heritage includes rhymes of Jose Cuervo and pico de gallo. It also doesn’t help that Lane’s accent often sounds more Eastern European than Spanish. Neuwirth, outfitted in a slinky black gown, certainly looks the part of Morticia. She still has a dancer’s body and the deadpan delivery that made her a star on Cheers, but her voice isn’t as strong as it was during her Tony-winning turn in Chicago. Chamberlin’s Fester gets a few good lines, and Hoffman cracks wise as Grandma. Terrence Mann is largely wasted as Lucas’ straitlaced father Mal. As his wife Alice, Carolee Carmello gets to do some belting in her big number, “Waiting,” but her character’s penchant for poetry gets tired fast.
McDermott and Crouch’s set looks pretty creepy and is nicely accessorized with a nifty red curtain. Basil Twist contributes puppets of Cousin Itt, a monster under a bed, and a giant squid that briefly amuse kids (and some adults) in the audience.
Overall, however, The Addams Family needs more creepiness and less cutesiness. When Gomez and Morticia get sentimental and misty-eyed, it’s clear that this misguided, bloated musical hasn’t come close to capturing the spirit of Addams’ mischievous, concisely witty cartoons.