Sometimes critics can shed light on the darkness. It’s our duty and our pleasure to clue in the public to an unknown piece of theatre when we can, holding the front door open for others to peer inside.
This is not my task with The Addams Family. The undead eyeshadow and gothic décor painted onto the national tour of the 2010 Broadway musical is a false darkness, a two-dimensional haunted house built not for slipping inside but, like a cheap trompe l’oeil, for admiring at a distance.
Sadly, the color black provides no inherent depth. For its $16 million budget, even the facade of the show (recently transplanted to The Kennedy Center) feels flat and un-mysterious.
The show has been substantially rewritten since its Broadway run — Authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (the pair also wrote Jersey Boys) got back together with composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa to change some plot points, drop a few songs, and add a few more — but The Addams Family is still just cheap Halloween candy.
The costumed actors are modestly successful facsimiles of Charles Addams’s cartoon characters (made famous, of course, on television and in film since the sixties), but for plot and character it’s sugar-simple at best, with generic, mildly inviting tunes that never really tap the requisite spookiness.
Speaking as a longtime candy devotee, I can’t knock refined sweets. Any kid who has ever dumped loads of late-night treats out of a plastic pumpkin at the end of a long night of door-knocking knows how to appreciate an excess of the familiar, the rush of dumb joy that comes from eating badly.
But there’s nothing new under the full moon here, which is why The Addams Family needn’t take much analysis. Those who aren’t long-time fans of the family may despair under the weight of the rehash-y jokes and sight gags (look — there goes Cousin Itt!), but fans will likely find much to smile at.
The plot centers on Goth daughter Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson), who has dropped her deadpan for a sunny grin even before the show starts. She’s in love with an oppressively normal young man named Lucas Beineke, and now he’s bringing his folks to the Addams residence to meet the parents. Uh oh!
How is a conservative midwestern family going to stand having dinner with such an alternative Manhattanite clan? Wednesday’s dad, after all, is the flamboyantly foreign Gomez Addams (Douglas Sills), her mother the voluptuous and outspoken Morticia (Sara Gettelfinger). There’s a freewheeling stoner Grandma (Pippa Pearthree) in the attic, the spiteful tyke Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) running around hungry for attention, and a bald uncle (Blake Hammond) who was played in the films by Christopher Lloyd, of all people.
This can’t go well. As Morticia drolly intones: “What’s normal for the spider is calamity for the fly.” And it doesn’t go well, of course, during the predictable middle portion. But then it does, during the sentimental and overlong second act. The final resolution, tender and totally detached from Addams Family values, will amuse some and surprise no one.
Just as there’s an occasional fun-size Snickers to be found in a mound of Three Musketeers, The Addams Family does have some jokes that are gooey enough to enjoy. A number of visual gags prove funny (one highlight: the excitable Gomez trying to enjoy a desultory fencing match with Lurch). A few of songs do stick in the mind enough to replay on the way home. The ongoing undercurrent of vaudevillian schtick gets some chuckles. And a moonlit Act Two love ballad sung by Uncle Fester employs some genuinely clever puppets and visual tricks.
Most of the rest, sadly, needs refurbishing. Bits of character development glimmer only sporadically, overpowered by the character’s more standard — and far less interesting — tendency to declaim what’s going on and then respond with some canned sitcom flair. The endless quips are sometimes good, and the actors put suitable oomph into the songs, but it’s not enough to draw us beyond the level modest amusement we’d get from a half-hour of network comedy.
Of course it’s not Hamlet. Should you stay away at all costs? Nah, you’ll have some fun. It’s easy, slack, and sweet.
Will it fill you up? Nope. This isn’t dinner, it’s re-heated dessert.
Is it good for you? Whatever, go nuts. Just brush your teeth before you go to bed.
The Addams Family
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by Phelim McDermott, Julian Crouch and Jerry Zaks
Presented by The Kennedy Center
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission