Some cast recordings sound almost as good as the show sounds live in the theater. The Decca recording of The Addams Family sounds better.
In the Lunt-Fantanne Theatre on New York’s 46th street, the sound system emphasizes the keyboards – of which there are two – at the expense of the brass and reeds. It also is heavy on the bass, resulting in the thumping rhythm line dominating even when the tune requires either a light or a lush touch.
All of this is remedied on the CD, thanks to recording producer Andrew Lippa and his engineer Frank Filipetti. Lippa has a special reason for making sure the score sounds its best on the disc. He wrote it. (He’s also the composer/lyricist of the off-Broadway musical The Wild Party, and of the songs that were added to You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown for its Broadway incarnation.)
After the harsh criticism that greeted the opening of the show on Broadway and its nearly total absence from the year’s Tony Awards (two nominations, no wins), it may come as a surprise to those who haven’t actually seen the show to discover that it is a bright, tuneful and delightfully delivered – if admittedly lightweight – Broadway-style musical comedy. It is reminiscent of The Producers, Spamalot, Young Frankenstein and Shrek … those shows that rely on a cascade of gags and outrageous concepts.
You expect a string of sharp songs structured to show off the strengths of the big names above the title: Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth – and you get them. However, the album also reveals that the function of this score in this show is to provide each and every one of the ten principals with at least one song designed to be their big moment.
Lane gets grist for his classic comedian mode right from the top of the show with “When You’re an Addams” as he assumes his role as head of the family and explains just what a weird family it really is. He remains the star among stars all night long and Neuwirth, who has a little less to do than you might expect, steps into the spotlight alone and with others to demonstrate her ability to sell a song or a gag.
The rest of the Addams clan is as bizarre as you would expect with the requisite humor pulled from the spirit of Charles Addams’ cartoons. Kevin Chamberlin’s impishness works nicely as the “fat bald person of no specific sexuality.” Uncle Fester, is in love with the moon, as he reveals in his segment of the full cast “Full Disclosure.” The recording captures a few flashes of the outlandishness of Jackie Hoffman’s performance as the Grandma who may not be from either side of the family, and Adam Riegler takes full advantage of his musical question “What If?” which lists the things he would miss if his sister wasn’t around to torture him.
The plot deals with a family far from the ranks of the normal when an offspring falls for a supposedly normal partner (think La Cage aux Folles). As the young Addams girl, Krysta Rodriguez’s big moments are huge … just listen to “Pulled” or her parts of “One Normal Night” or “Crazier Than You” where she is joined by Wesley Taylor as her boyfriend. As his parents, Carolee Carmello belts out “Waiting” and Terrence Mann finally lets loose late in the second act after he’s found release of “some secret longing” in the arms of a squid, letting Lippa reach for a rhyme for “in the arms of a two ton cephalopod.”
Lippa’s other rhymes and gags may not be quite as extreme as that, but they are clever and funny and he’s at his best when he’s really reaching. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book has him turning slightly schmaltzy when Lane sings of the emotion felt by any parent who has a child grow up and prepare to set out in life. The song “Happy/Sad” seems a bit out of place in the rest of this score as Lane sings of tender emotions without any punchlines.
The show’s finale provides another strange moment of schmaltz, one that seems to attempt to give the show a moral although just what that moral is is anybody’s guess. What do you make of “Move toward the darkness. Welcome the unknown. Face your blackest demons. Find your bleakest bone. / Loose your inhibitions. Love what once was vile. Move toward the darkness … and smile.”? As Uncle Fester asks in another song in the show: “Whose to say?”