Not That Creepy, Not That Kooky
The Broadway musical inspired by Charles Addams' iconic characters has been critically panned, but that hasn't stopped ticket sales. Now, a touring production hits Toronto.
The Addams Family
The Toronto Centre for the Arts (12 Alexander Street)
November 16 – 27
Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
It is a universally acknowledged truth that a single commercial property in possession of good name-recognition must be in want of a musical adaptation. And, so, who was surprised when a musical inspired by The Addams Family came to the Great White Way in the spring of 2010, helmed by Broadway icons Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth? In fact, the creepy, kooky clan (including parents Gomez and Morticia, children Wednesday and Pugsley, servants Lurch and Thing, as well as Uncle Fester, Grandmama, and Cousin Itt) have been through scads of adaptations at this point, and they usually come out on top. For our money, the “good” Addams projects are the black-and-white TV show, Barry Sonnenfeld’s inspired 1991 film version and its sequel, and, of course, the original New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams that started the whole thing. Sadly, the new Addams Family musical is more in line with that corny, low-budget (and Vancouver-shot) The New Addams Family TV series from the late ’90s.
The show’s a turkey. It would be hard for us to put it better than Ben Brantley did in the New York Times:
A tepid goulash of vaudeville song-and-dance routines, Borscht Belt jokes, stingless sitcom zingers and homey romantic plotlines that were mossy in the age of “Father Knows Best,” “The Addams Family” is most distinctive for its wholesale inability to hold on to a consistent tone or an internal logic.
Ouch, right? But here’s the interesting part: while kinder reviews have killed better shows, The Addams Family has been something of a Teflon musical. The bad reviews simply haven’t stuck, and now here we are, well over a year after it first opened in NYC and The Addams Family is still running on Broadway as well as hitting Toronto on its North American tour. Maybe it’s that the show isn’t egregious or offensive so much as it is lame and hackneyed. Maybe it’s that the brand is so well-known no one cares that you won’t leave the theatre humming any of the songs or quoting any of the jokes. Maybe The Addams Family is simply the perfect show for people who don’t really like theatre: slight, mildly diverting, relatively painless.
The setup for the story is surprisingly banal for a musical about a macabre family of supernatural weirdos. Wednesday, now a twentysomething who’s chopped off her trademark pigtails, has fallen in love with a normal boy, Lucas Beieke. Lucas and his parents, Mal and Alice, come over for dinner at the Addams manor. “Hilarity” ensues. There’s also some stuff about Uncle Fester summoning the ghosts of Addams ancestors, but the show barely gives any thought to this subplot, so neither will we.
Thank goodness the touring cast is game. The songs are limp and witless, the choreography absolutely phoned-in, and even the costumes seem more Halloween than Broadway, but Douglas Sills’ Gomez is appropriately charismatic, Blake Hammond’s Fester a peculiar delight, and Sara Gettelfinger’s Morticia adequately deadpan—although the script reduces her character to a one-note sexy shrew. Cortney Wolfson’s Wednesday, sadly, is a bit of a pain, but it’s hardly her fault. Remember what a revelation Christina Ricci was in the role? So incredibly frosty and intimidating, and only six! Well, at 26, that shtick just doesn’t work the same way, and Wolfson’s Wednesday is basically just a spoiled, emo brat. Also, her relationship with Pugsley, who hasn’t been aged, is now really uncomfortable, especially when he asks if she’ll still torture him once she’s married, to which she responds, “Sure, at least until you find a girl of your own.” Yuck!
Our favourite cast member, ironically enough, was Crista Moore, who doesn’t even play an Addams but rather makes the most out of Alice Beineke. By far the most developed of the original characters, Alice’s journey from poetry-spouting goody-goody to Addams-friendly kook is the emotional core of the show. If only it went further! It’s impossible not to think of Brad and Janet arriving at Castle Frank-N-Furter when the Beinekes arrive at the Addams manor (inexplicably located in Central Park for the purposes of this show). And that makes us want Alice to go from this to this. But this show certainly doesn’t have the balls to go that far, and it’s a shame.
There are moments where the production gets it together. The second act, on the whole, moves much faster and works much better than the first. It also contains the two best musical numbers: Morticia’s gleefully grim “Just Around the Corner” and Fester’s “The Moon and Me,” a weird, left-field gem that basically has nothing to do with the rest of the show but features a truly magical moment where Fester dances with his true love: the moon. But for the most part, we’re left thinking about how much better things could have been.
The Addams Family belongs on stage—they’ve always been highly theatrical—but they deserve a show worthy of their peculiar charms, including a plot with genuine conflict and formidable antagonists instead of some tired old cliche about gauche in-laws (not to mention more-than-cameo appearances by Thing and Cousin Itt!). Our Addams Family musical would have the daring and the subversiveness of Rocky Horror, the sinful gallows humour of Sweeney Todd, and real, campy, scary villains like the ones Dan Hedaya, Elizabeth Wilson, and Joan Cusack play in the Sonnenfeld films. When can we see that show?