THE BASICS: The National Tour of this new musical, based upon celebrated creations of cartoonist Charles Addams, plays nightly at the Shea’s Buffalo through December 11th. The book, by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise, and songs by Andrew Lippa have both seen extensive revision. Jerry Zaks is now supervising the operation. THE ADDAMS FAMILY runs approximately 2 ½ hours with its one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: NYC, present day. All seems to be well with the Biggle Apple’s weirdest nuclear family until daughter Wednesday, now grown up, falls for the son of some decidedly straight-arrow Ohio folks. Optimistic beyond reason, Wednesday and her beau Lucas arrange for the families to meet. At the Addams mansion. For supper and games. It’s quite a night for all concerned, with the ghostly Addams’ ancestors, marshaled by lovable Uncle Fester, helping the young lovers, after a fashion. The show is a thinly veiled rewrite of YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, with all the schmaltz.
CURIOUS QUESTIONS: How is it that Wednesday has grown up, and her brother Pugsley remains a preteen? Where has the Pugs been living, Neverland? Another: How is it that one of the Addams’ ancestors is an Indian squaw? Small points perhaps, but they continue to stick in my craw. Anyone with answers is encouraged to respond…
THE CAST AND THE PRODUCTION: The cast is filled with spunky, talented performers, intent on putting over a decidedly weak show. Douglas Sills, while too handsome to play Gomez, provides flash and dash as the Latin patriarch who is mad for his wife and his own incessant quips. Sarah Gettelfinger is Gothic perfection as the elegant Morticia, in a black dress “cut down to Venezuela”. Courtney Wolfson’s rebellious Wednesday is fetching, easy to take. I particularly enjoyed
Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester, a mysterious cueball of cryptic smiles, effectively channeling Stubby Kaye. Pippa Pearthree’s Grandma is also big and bold, but more peripheral and not as lovable. Tim Korbeil looks great as Lurch, and there are cute cameos for The Thing and Cousin It. The standout among the square Bieneke clan is Crista Moore, as the prim-and-proper, oh-so-repressed mom, Alice. She has a great opportunity to strut her stuff at the end of Act 1, in the lively “Full Disclosure” number. Hammond (as Fester) gets his big chance in Act 2, serenading his true love, the moon, in the ballad “The Moon and Me”. This charming, zany number is the show’s creative high point, wonderfully staged. Would that songwriter Lippa, whose lyrics are sometimes quite clever, had more of a gift for melody. You won’t go out whistling anything, except perhaps the old Addams’ Family TV theme (interpolated at the onset). The sets are serviceable, the costumes rather nice. The show is well lit, and not badly paced (considering its length and lack of plot).
The big trouble with THE ADDAMS’ FAMILY is that, like the old TV program, it has none of the subtle perversity of Addams’ great cartoons. There is a gloss of warped sophistication, yes, but the overall feeling is surprisingly OZZIE AND HARRIET. The last things its creators wanted, it appears, were subtlety and perversity. This is an old-fashioned, feel-good, 50’s style musical, dressed in Halloween clothes. It’s light and lively, and the actors are knocking themselves out for you. If you come in properly warned, you may be quite pleased. But we are miles away from the brilliant Charles Addams of the New Yorker, folks, a million miles away…
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!