'Addams Family' shows its kooky stuff at the Hippodrome
Revised since its New York premiere, which received a drubbing from the press, the show provides a workable vehicle for the characters first immortalized by the Charles Addams cartoons and memorably brought to life by the 1960s TV series.
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who wrote the book, borrowed a well-used device to frame the musical — the comic collision of opposites. On one side, the ever so odd, but loving, Addams clan. On the other, the Beinekes, a white-bread family from Ohio that comes for dinner.
Although that would have been enough to fuel a 30-minute episode of the TV show, it feels padded here.
The big new idea fashioned for the national touring production is a bit creaky, too. Gomez Addams reluctantly agrees to keep from his wife Morticia a secret, something neither ever does. It’s about daughter Wednesday, who, in addition to torturing her brother — and I do mean torturing — has found time to fall in love and make marriage plans.
It’s just a little too convenient that Morticia insists on playing a “truth game” even before she knows just how much has been kept from her, but this set-up does pay some theatrical dividends in the Act 1 finale.
Even though nearly every little turn in the plot is apparent before it arrives, just as nearly every rhyme in Andrew Lippa’s generic songs gives itself away before the next downbeat, the production manages to hold together.
For one thing, ...
The set design, pared down from the Broadway staging designed by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott, is another plus. The towering walls of the Addams mansion may billow a little in the breeze, but the scenery delivers solid visual charm. A second act image of the noon rising over the New York skyline is particularly effective.
The musical also has a big thing going for it before the curtain is ever opened by Thing — the affection the public has long felt for the Addams characters, especially as personified on TV by John Astin, Carolyn Jones and the rest. There is no trouble generating a connection between stage and audience from the get-go. (Using a snippet of the TV theme song as bait doesn’t hurt.)
The touring cast is headed by Douglas Sills as Gomez, the patriarch with a cool collection of “instruments of persuasion” from the Spanish Inquisition. Sills suggests a young George Hamilton, with something of the same dash, the same sparkle in the smile. He’s a sturdy vocalist, with an admirable sense of styling for all the inevitably Latin-flavored songs given to the character.
Sara Gettelfinger has the deadpan down nicely for Morticia, and an eye-catching dress than magically contains her bosom, but she could try a little more nuance along the way. Her vibrant singing finds an especially telling outlet in “Just Around the Corner,” the sort of a ditty about death that you would expect from someone named Morticia.
Cortney Wolfson, as Wednesday, has a certain flair for the jet-black humor of the character and a rather strident, one-color sound for the vocal numbers. Patrick D. Kennedy, as Pugsley, the endearing sado-masochistic kid in the family, makes up in energy for what he lacks in polish.
Christy Morton is so likable as Grandma that you can almost forgive the rather tacky humor the character is used for by the writers. (Morton is the understudy for the role who performed Wednesday.) Tom Corbeil is suitably imposing as Lurch, and also surprises with some colorful vocalism.
The men of the Beineke family (Martin Vidnovic as the father, Justin Crum as Wednesday’s boyfriend) do serviceable work. But Crista Moore, as Alice, a frustrated woman prone to speaking in bad rhyme, nearly steals the show with her finely honed comic timing.
The actual scene-stealer, though, is Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester, the guy who can do unnatural things with light bulbs (what he does with one in the last scene generates one the show’s best sight gags). Hammond brings out the character’s endearingly childish, but warm and wise, qualities with great flair and breaks the fourth wall so naturally you can forget how worn that device has become.
The chorus of newly risen dead folks gets into the spirit vividly. The small orchestra is rendered tinny by the amplification.
For what is, on many levels, just an old-fashioned musical, it’s strange that none of the songs is primed for a life outside of context. Then again, the predictability of the rhymes and rhythms in Lippa’s score gets a little tiresome. Still, there are a few neat numbers. You can’t help but go along for the ride with Fester when, aided by clever stagecraft, he sings his love song to the moon, for example.
And a certain kick is delivered by the finale, “Move Toward the Darkness,” a sort of flip side to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Something very Addams-esque about that.
PHOTO BY JEREMY DANIEL