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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Broadway Bound: The Addams Family Singers




I highly recommend that everyone move toward the darkness and go see the new musical version of The Addams Family. For a show filled with creepy, kooky folks who enjoy anything ooky, it has a surprisingly sweet center that will leave you smiling. And having seen a preview performance last night, I predict that Gomez, Morticia and the rest of their ghoulish gang will be crooning some happy tunes for many years to come.

The Addams Family doesn't officially open in Chicago until December 9, but since I doubt I'll be invited that night, I'm going to tell you what I experienced in full SPOILER detail so please don't read any further if you prefer not to know. I'm sure the show will change between now and opening night (and before it opens on Broadway next April), but I hope composer Andrew Lippa, book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (who wrote Jersey Boys), and all the producers don't ruin a good thing. Most of what is currently on stage is working quite well, so--except for a few tweaks here and there and perhaps a couple of new songs--I would suggest that they just sit in the theater and listen to their audiences. Everyone seemed to love the show last night, and they couldn't wait to give the brilliantly talented cast a standing ovation--even the young man sitting in front of me who entertained his girlfriend during intermission by placing his bubblegum in the middle of his program in order to then pull the stuck pages apart. He had a great time--and so will you.

Now let's start at the very beginning and proceed from there:

Overture: Hey, any musical that has one of these nowadays earns brownie points from me.

"Clandango": This opening number isn't my favorite song, but it does effectively introduce the family and their ancestors (the latter are the 11 chorus members who appear quite frequently throughout the show). The scene takes place in the cemetery where the Addamses are celebrating the 18th birthday of their daughter, Wednesday, whom unexpectedly has fallen in love with a "normal" boy.

"Let's Not Talk About Anything Else But Love": The most repeated tune of the evening is this little ditty by Uncle Fester (Kevin Chamberlin), who also acts as an amusing narrator to the story. Chamberlin is a total delight who definitely deserves a Tony nomination come next June.

"Pulled": This is one of my favorite songs in the show, and it's sung by Wednesday, who's played by an amazing young actress named Krysta Rodriguez. She has appeared on Broadway in In the Heights, Spring Awakening and A Chorus Line, and despite being surrounded by so much overwhelming talent onstage, this girl is the main attraction. Her Wednesday is hilarious--and, boy, can she sing. Ms. Rodriguez better get a Tony nomination or I'm coming to the Big Apple to beat some asses. Anyway, in this scene Wednesday is trying to come to terms with her new feelings of love while torturing her little brother, Pugsley.

"Passionate and True": Here's a nice duet between Gomez and Morticia, who sing about their marriage. Initially Nathan Lane's Gomez is exactly how I expected him to be--The Producers' Max Bialystock with a mustache and accent. However, as the show progresses, a much more tender and gentle side of the character is revealed in his performance. But no one knows how to deliver a funny line better than Mr. Lane, who is a comic genius.

"One Normal Night": Morticia has insisted on inviting Wednesday's boyfriend, Lucas, and his parents, Mal and Alice, to dinner at their lovely home. Wednesday and her family all sing about having one normal night for this important meeting between the two families.

"Let's Not Talk About Anything Else But Love 2": Wednesday and Lucas join Uncle Fester and the Ancestors on this reprise, and I must sing the praises of the vocally talented--and very handsome--Wesley Taylor, who plays Lucas. He and Ms. Rodriguez make a cute and charismatic couple worth rooting for.

"At Seven": Lucas and his parents have already arrived for dinner by the time of this tune, in which Gomez and Mal become better acquainted in the former's basement of horrors, while Morticia and Alice have an enlightening chat. The four of them sing about their marriages, and "At Seven" refers to Gomez and Morticia's nightly ritual of dancing the tango.

"What If": Another terrific number that gives Adam Riegler a chance to shine in his role as Pugsley. You might remember this young actor from his hysterically funny YouTube videos about Cubby Bernstein's quest to win Xanadu the Best Musical Tony a few years ago. He's just as perfect in the role of Pugsley, who laments to his grandmother about missing his sister's torturous affection. Now I must also mention the fabulous Jackie Hoffman, who plays the pot-smoking Grandma and steals every scene she is in. Unfortunately, she's not in that many scenes. I wanted more Grandma! Give the old gal a show-stopping duet with Uncle Fester or even her own brief solo. Ms. Hoffman is another comic genius that deserves more than she's getting so far in the musical.

"Full Disclosure", "Waiting", and "Full Disclosure (Part 2)": These three connected songs end Act One as the family insists on playing "The Game" with their guests after dinner, despite Wednesday's protests. The game is called "Full Disclosure", in which everyone takes a drink of wine and then reveals something they've never told anyone before. It's a fun and catchy tune with the entire cast, but after Alice (Carolee Carmello) drinks some wine laced with one of Grandma's potions, she suddenly becomes a brand new person who tells the truth about her miserable marriage. In her wonderful solo number, "Waiting", Carmello makes us see another side to her silly poetry-spouting wife and mother. It's one of the best scenes in the entire show. And then the act comes to a close with Uncle Fester conjuring up a storm to keep their guests from leaving.

Act Two opens with a brief tune by the Ancestors, and then we finally get Morticia's big number, "Second Banana", in which she tells us how she feels about her own life and marriage. We all know and love actress Bebe Neuwirth, who plays Morticia. She won two Emmy Awards as Lilith on Cheers and a Tony as Velma in the musical, Chicago. The lady is brilliant, but in The Addams Family, she's got the most difficult and challenging role as Morticia, whose long, skintight dress almost seems to constrain her performance. It also doesn't allow her to show off her incredible dancing legs that were so prominently featured in Chicago. And both Rodriguez and Carmello have better songs to sing. I liked "Second Banana", but I wanted it to build into a more powerful tune. And her brief reprise of it just fades away as she walks off stage, which is a shame. Besides Grandma's unfortunate absence (especially in Act Two), I was most disappointed by the character of Morticia. Bebe deserves better, too, so hopefully Lippa can successfully tweak "Second Banana"--or just write her a brand new song.

"The Moon and Me": One of the most visually stunning numbers in the show as Uncle Fester gets to meet his true love, the moon. It's Chamberlin's best scene.

"Happy/Sad": And here's Nathan Lane's best scene as Gomez sings this ballad to his daughter. It's the sweetest moment in the musical.

"Crazier Than You": A great duet for Lucas and Wednesday.

"Let's Not Talk About Anything Else But Love 3": Gomez, Mal and Uncle Fester croon this reprise together, and the scene ends with the best special effects of the evening as Mal becomes better acquainted with Bernice, the giant squid who lives beneath the family's home. Bernice is the marvelous masterpiece of puppeteer Basil Twist and Special Effects Designer Gregory Meeh, who provide many eye-popping and jaw-dropping moments throughout the musical with their handiwork. I especially loved Morticia's flesh-eating plant, who makes an all-too-brief appearance early on. And once you add in directors/designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, who have collaborated together to create the dark but totally inviting onstage world of The Addams Family, you've got yourself a production that is a scrumptious feast for the eyes from start to finish. I hope all four men are richly rewarded next year for their impressive efforts.

"Teach Me How to Tango": An enjoyable duet between Gomez and Alice.

"The Swordfight/Tango!": The show's almost over, but at least we finally get to see Bebe's legs as Morticia and Gomez have a swordfight and a tango in order to resolve their marital problems (she was feeling really old--and she wasn't too pleased to catch her husband dancing with another woman). Neuwirth and Lane are at the top of their game in this rousing number, which the audience adored.

"In the Arms": This is the strangest number of the show as Mal (played by Terrence Mann) returns from his visit with Bernice a changed man, and he and Alice reconcile and sing a reprise of the song. Mann has to play the "bad guy" of the show--even though he isn't all that terrible--but I was glad to see him finally get his moment in the spotlight with this tune. However, a song about a life-altering experience with a giant squid is probably the first of its kind.

"Move Toward the Darkness": The grand finale with the full company and, of course, a happy ending (it's a musical comedy, folks). And I did leave the theater humming this tune, which is always a good sign.

Two final comments: Yes, the cast does briefly do the memorable finger-snapping theme song of the TV series, but they do not sing the words. Note to creators: Have the cast perform this tune during the curtain call--the audience will love it. Also, I was tickled that most of the audience enjoyed Gomez's obscure--but hilarious--reference to a 50-year-old television sitcom. I'm not sure if the bubblegum boy in front of me understood it, but I appreciated the pop culture reference.

Well, that's my review. As I said before, I'm sure there will be some changes before the show opens on Broadway next spring, but what's currently onstage here in Chicago is pretty damn good.

So get a witch's shawl on.
A broomstick you can crawl on.
And pay a call on
The Addams Family.

The Addams Family runs until January 10 in Chicago and begins its Broadway previews on March 3. For tickets and further information, go to www.theaddamsfamilymusical.com. You can also become a Facebook fan of the show by clicking here.

1 comment:

Kirby said...

I had no idea "Cubby Bernstein" was in this! Thanks for the write up, looking forward to seeing/hearing more from this show.

- kch

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