Review – The Addams Family, Lunt – Fontanne Theatre

Friday 16 April 2010

At last – the Whingers’ Holy Grail.

It has been a whole year of excitement since the Whingers first heard of The Addams Family Musical and – answering at least some of the voices in their heads – forswore to embark on a pilgrimage to The Broadway to worship at the shrine the twin saints of musical theatre: St Nathan and St Bebe.

Yes, Nathan Lane as Gomez and one of Andrew’s favourite comedy actresses Bebe Neuwirth (hitherto unseen by him on the stage) as Morticia. PLUS the redoubtable Jackie Hoffman whom the Whingers had loved here in Hairspray and Xanadu (which means the Whingers have seen her entire Broadway canon, according to her bio).

What could possibly go wrong?

Well yes, admittedly word of mouth from the out of town try-outs in Chicago was not promising. And then Brit director/designers (Improbable‘s  Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch) who were working on their first big Broadway musical were suddenly given a  “creative consultant” in the form of veteran director Jerry Zaks.

Things were sounding rather rocky and the icing on the rock cake came in the form of a withering review from Ben Brantley in the New York Times last week. The Whingers’ expectations were getting lower by the day.

But seeing the the lovely swishy red swag curtains at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and hearing the iconic finger-clicking Vic Mizzy’s Addams Family theme worked into the overture, an appearance from Thing (severed hands clearly being The Broadway’s current leitmotif judging by this and the previous night’s A Behanding in Spokane) and the curtains rising on the full, fantastically-realised Addams clan standing as  though for a family portrait in a graveyard, the Whingers’ anticipation was heading back up the scale. Everything looked very promising.

The story, as many have pointed out, is basically La Cage Aux Folles – Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez) has a boyfriend, Lucas (Wesley Taylor). He and his Iowan parents are visiting the prospective in-laws in their Gothic two acres of Central Park and Wednesday wants everyone to behave like a “normal” family for the duration.

Well, that’s OK. LCAF is a decent enough plot so why not? As long as one puts Wednesday’s sudden perception that her family is abnormal down to love or something. Of course, it’s a bit inconvenient that the transferred Menier production of La Cage opens here on Sunday so that people can readily compare the two.

But really, the book (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) is a dog. If it weren’t for the talents of Lane, Neuwirth and Hoffman happily supported by some first rate comic performances from Kevin Chamberlin as Uncle Fester and Zachary James as an adorable but woefully underused Lurch who between them wring every last laugh out of the meagre material, this show would be unwatchable. Things are not helped in the slightest by the anodyne songs (music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa).

On the plus side, the design and the ever-moving sets with nods to Escher are rather wonderful. The performances, of course, are first rate and the audience loved it. There is some amusing puppetry.

The first act elicited enough guffaws from the Whingers to leave us moderately satisfied at the interval, though for every winning joke (particularly Grandma’s excellent flatulence gag) there’s a slew of weak ones that fall flatter than Neuwirth’s almost fully-displayed alabaster chest. But any goodwill quickly dissipated in the second act where the songs became even lamer, the gags even more puerile and these excellent Broadway vets were working their best to keep the show afloat.

With the Whingers resplendent in newly purchased underpants its a shame the plot necessitates the chorus and leads remain in more or less the same outfits throughout the show.

To be honest, if we had paid full-whack The Broadway prices for stalls tickets we would have been pretty pissed (in the Americans sense). Oh, wait, hang on, we did pay full-whack The Broadway prices and we aren’t pissed. In either  sense. What’s that about?

It’s rather mysterious and heretical but despite the lame book, music and lyrics there’s real star power at work and you can see your money up there on the stage.

Obviously it’s still a great shame, because of the waste of the talents employed (especially Neuwirth who gets to do very little) but it certainly isn’t quite the car crash production that you might expect. Would we recommend people see it? Of course! It’s Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane as the Addams Family! Who wouldn’t want to see that? And it seems that enough people do. Apparently the show sold $851,000 in tickets last weekend on top of a $15 million sales advance (Update 16/04: our new best friend Michael Riedel is sceptical about these figures). It is Broadway’s very own We Will Rock You for the middle clases.

Ovationage: 100% (in the orchestra. Our spy in the mezzanine reports that people there only stood to leave)


Two out of Five: slightly corked or vinegary


Jackie Hoffman is currently co-writing the book for a musical adaptation of Pretty Woman with Mark O’Donnel, set to premiere in Seattle in Summer 2011. Xanadu and Hairspray.

3 Responses to “Review – The Addams Family, Lunt – Fontanne Theatre”

  1. JohnnyFox Says:

    There was only one row in front of me in the Mezzanine and they certainly didn’t jump to their feet at the end, although that could have been to avoid spilling their malted milk balls into the Orchestra.

    When I looked over my shoulder, people seemed more to be struggling into coats than ovating. And the man next to me had the terminal fidgets all the way through the second half when his twitching actually woke me up.

    I have jet lag. But I might have dozed anyway.

  2. Dickie and Butch Says:

    Interesting review, we’re relieved major stars of the bloggosphere like you share our opinion from 10th April below. We’re also delighted you recognised parallels with Escher among other things;

  3. Patrick Brightman Says:

    I found it joyously funny and Lippa’s music engaging and clever. I quite liked it just being a celebration of the characters rather than a plot-driven exercise. And the leads – including Grandma, Fester, Mrs Normal (a terrific turn from Carmello Carolee who sang the life out of her difficult aria)- were senational.Lurch was a comic joy. And the ensemble were terrific – sang well and danced with precision and grace. Only Wednesday seemed to me to be not up to the task – a full-throttle belter would have changed the feel of Lippa’s music (to what I imagine he intended).

    Ben Brantley’s “review” was outrageous – I’m glad the public are ignoring him!

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