Chicago Culture Vulture

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“The Addams Family” Musical: A Snappy Book with Dead Songs

adams

Dunanana. Snap. Snap.

Dunanana. Snap. Snap.

Dunanana. Dunanana. Dunanana. Snap. Snap.

The opening theme to the popular television series The Addams Family christens the overture of the new musical The Addams Family, playing this week at the Cadillac Palace in Broadway in Chicago.  After a pre-Broadway tryout in chicago with Nathan Lane as the horny patriarch Gomez, the production has been revamped and retooled and still plays on Broadway as the touring production visits its birthplace.

Each Addams is accounted for: the ghostly wife Morticia with a plunging neckline, the violent and pudgy Pugsley, the angsty Wednesday, and a whole slew of undead Addams that serve as the chorus.  The story they tell is a classic clash of families – Romeo & Juliet style, but with a quintessentially Addams twist.  The pale and ruthless Wednesday has found herself falling for a “normal” boy and is worried her family, especially her mother, will disapprove.  The macabre and the mundane clash at a large dinner that should showcase the morbid, twisted psyche of all things Addams.  But some over-characterization of the boy’s family distract from the titular family: the Mom speaks in poetry, the Dad has lost that loving feeling, and the Son has almost no personality, except for when it sets up a punchline for the Addams crew.  Rather than serve as a grounded juxtaposition to the Addam’s crazy, this invented threesome is bit too quirky and ends up fighting the titular family for focus.

Of course, this misstep might be forgivable if the show’s songs were tuneful and passionate.  But while the witty book deserves snaps, the songs in The Addams Family are more dunanana.  And I can put my finger on the it (or Cousin It).  Wednesday’s power ballad about being “Pulled in a New Direction” by love stands out as a song with emotion and a witty game to boot (as she sings, she tortures her brother by pulling his limbs in a new direction); but the other melodies, mostly unmemorable save the opening, tend to explain the plot rather than further it.  Lacking passion, the songs don’t build stakes or tension and end up flatlining  – which I suppose the Addams family would support.

A clever and witty book by the team behind Jersey Boys (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, whose other credits include co-writing Annie Hall and work with The Walt Disney studios) saves the night from complete death, with plenty of punchlines that celebrate the macabre and backwardly dark family.  But a central plot device – a mysterious “game,” which turns out to basically be “take a shot, tell a secret” – utterly misses the mark.  While the game and song, “Full Disclosure,” might properly close the first act of Lysistrata Jones or Legally Blonde, the Addams Family should develop a game a bit darker than your average peppy sorority sisters.

At its Chicago opening night, The Addams Family attracted a fair share of families, as kids as young as seven sat up straight to watch torture and ghosts abound.  And I felt like a kid at points, truly enjoying some of the clever and humorous puppetry (Fester’s love dance with the moon stands out).  But while the production might be enjoyed by most families, I still expect big budget musicals to offer something more passionate and moving to theatre-goers than the even-keeled nostalgic romp that The Addams Family is.  Snap. Snap.

The Addams Family is altogether spooky at the Cadillac Palace through January 1.  For more information, visit http://www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

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This entry was posted on December 20, 2011 by in Theatre Review.
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