First, tickets aren’t cheap, so it has to be visually spectacular. Check. The scenery is amazing and there are even a few special effects (by Gregory Meeh), including an animated curtain tassel. The curtain itself changes colors to create a light show (lighting design by Natasha Katz) during the overture (familiar theme song? Check). In fact, the whole curtain, which is opened by Thing (its only appearance) moves around to frame the appropriate areas of the stage and nearly seems to dance. You need relatable characters in a formula musical, and the more familiar they are, the better. And who is more a part of our cultural fabric than the Addamses? Through the iconic New Yorker cartoons, television and movies, it seems they and their clever graveyard humor has always been around. But underneath their weirdness, mom, dad and the two kids are just as loving and “normal” as the Cleavers. (And by the way, did you ever think about that last name? Hmmm.)
Songs that are catchy and forward the plot but are eminently forgettable? We got ‘em. Some dancing, which just demonstrates that in newer musicals, the ensemble nearly always has more talent than the stars. Yep, it’s there too. A happy ending? Oh, really. Need you ask? Put it all together and it spells Ka-Ching! Add in an audience who expects to have a great time (both pre- and post-show buzz was electric) and the evening is so loaded with razzle dazzle that it hardly matters that the show sucks. Well, “sucks” is an overstatement. I saw it in Chicago before it went to New York and walked out at intermission. This time, I don’t think I’d have done that, even if I’d been at liberty to do so. Act I really is better than it was in the beginning, and most notably, Douglas Sills as Gomez is better than Nathan Lane was in the part. Really. But Act II is still pretty much a disaster, and if you do only see half a show, you’ve seen enough.
The bare bones plot (another good idea because you don’t want anything too hard to follow) is familiar from You Can’t Take it With You and La Cage aux Folles, among others: Weird parents meet straight parents when their kids fall in love. Here, Mal and Alice Beineke (Martin Vidnovic, Christa Moore) from Ohio (“a SWING state,” notes Gomez in one of the many more or less humorous topical references) visit the Addams family at their estate in Central Park (on two acres bequeathed to an ancestor about whom a tasteless joke is told and repeated). Their son, Lucas (Brian Justin Crum), has met Wednesday Addams (Cortney Wolfson) when she’s hunting with her crossbow (an important plot device in Act II, and one of the reasons that part is dumb) in the park one day.
Morticia (Sara Gettelfinger) is reluctant to entertain the Beinekes but is convinced to do so. Much of the plot hinges on Wednesday having told her father that she plans to marry Lucas and then makes him promise not to tell her mother. Morticia believes the most important ingredient in their long and happy marriage is absolute honesty. Mayhem ensues, but love rules the day. Was there ever any doubt?
Some of the songs do have entertainment value. Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) is worried about his sister abandoning him, and his lament, “What If,” is touching and shows off an impressive set of pipes. “Full Disclosure” by the whole company (including Grandma [Pippa Pearthree], Uncle Fester [Blake Hammond] and the “ancestors,” the singing and dancing chorus summoned from their graves to help with the Wednesday situation. Incidentally, Lurch (Tom Corbeil) is there too and gets his moment near the end of the show.
The ancient Addamses are very animated corpses and do justice to Sergio Trujillo’s inventive choreography. Here is where the costume designer, Jillian Crouch, gets to stretch because the core family is clad in their familiar garb. While the ancesters represent various historical eras, she dresses the Beinekes in Midwestern hyperbole. Crouch is also credited with “original direction,”as is Phelim McDermott. Music and lyrics are by Andrew Lippa and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, all of whom have done outstanding work for numerous other shows. The production was supervised by Jerry Zaks. The excellent “Addams Family Orchestra” is conducted by musical director Valerie Gebert.
Gettelfinger seems a bit dance-challenged (and her costume doesn’t help, but it turns out to be adjustable later) as the lead in a Broadway road company, but Trujillo makes her look good in “Just Around the Corner,” complete with obligatory kick line. The most enjoyable number for me was the “Tango de Amor” in the otherwise lamentable second act, a combination tango and paso doble finished off with flamenco performed with mucho gusto by Morticia and Gomez. The low point of the show is “The Moon and Me,” wherein Fester floats about like a portly Peter Pan singing an overly-long ode to the object of his affection, presumably to hide a complicated scene change going on behind him.
But you know what? People liked it. They “Sally Field” liked it. And it got them out of the house, away from the ballgame—some even dressed up—and off their cell phones for a couple of hours. And that’s the real aim of most live theatre: to entertain. Certainly there are plays that aim to make us think, but The Addams Family covers that base too when Grandma tells Pugsley (Message Alert!) to stop texting and pick up a book. (Much applause before everyone began texting at intermission.) As Christa Moore (Alice Beinecke) would no doubt tell you, having played Gypsy in the eponymous show that is the gold standard for musicals, “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” And as the Beatles sang, “All You Need is Love.” Put them together and they spell A-D-D-A-M-S. Sometimes it really is okay to turn off your mind, laugh at some inane jokes, and watch the freak flags fly.