Even with Neuwirth, Lane, 'Addams Family' musical can't live up to original

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 9, 2010; C02

Da da da dum (snap snap!)

Da da da dum (snap snap!)

Da da da dum,

Da da da dum,

Da da da dum (snap snap!)

Their outlook is too sunny,

Their jokes are not too funny,

And still, they'll make some money,

"The Addams Family!"

The songs are awfully cheesy

The punch lines far too easy

And Bebe's looking queasy --

"The Addams Family!"

Oh Broadway, Broadway, Broadway. Don't you know, you never seem sadder or more imaginatively barren than when you're diving for commercial relevance in the dumpsters behind old TV shows and movies?

"The Addams Family" -- this year's answer to the question, How many talented people does it take to screw up a concept? -- marks a significant depressing of an ever-more-degraded standard. It's a new show that, despite its mechanized trickery, feels rickety beyond belief, the 2010 musical version of a series of magazine cartoons from the 1930s, '40s and '50s that became a '60s sitcom that became a '90s Hollywood franchise. What you might call a wholly pre-owned Broadway musical.

Like "Shrek," "The Little Mermaid" and "Young Frankenstein" before it, "The Addams Family" is first and foremost a brand, and that is how the production is rolled out at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, where it had its official opening Thursday night. The first notes the orchestra plunks out are those of the insanely memorable theme song from the 1964-66 sitcom starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones as Gomez and Morticia Addams, who live in connubial bliss in an American haunted house.

So much for breaking the mold. Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth grab the wheel of this desperate vehicle. Though he's got Gomez's slicked-back hair and she's poured into Morticia's clingy gown, they never seem like the wryly macabre Addams characters -- or click as a couple. The hard-working Lane puts on some sort of ill-fitting accent and Neuwirth spends a lot of time forcing a smile, as if she's about to tell you she'd love to stick around but . . .

But, yeah, sorry, she is stuck up there, along with such agile comic actors as Kevin Chamberlin and Jackie Hoffman, who play the human light socket Uncle Fester and the crone they called Grandmama on TV. All serve up an endless litany of crypt, funeral and torture jokes, stitched together without a hint of drollery by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who wrote the far more satisfying book for "Jersey Boys." Some lines and vignettes are taken directly from Charles Addams's New Yorker cartoons, and still, the production's cymbal-crashing pace -- the product of directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, with an assist from Jerry Zaks -- sap them of their morbid wit.

Worse, the cast has to deal with Andrew Lippa's desultory score, with its playlist full of instantly forgettable tunes. The curious notion of what constitutes a rousing Act 1 finale is a convoluted number called "Full Disclosure," in which the family gathers to drink a truth serum. It ends with some sort of mix-up and one of the guests (Carolee Carmello) confessing her sexual frustrations in a strangely rhymed series of free associations: "Waiting, fixating, debating, lose-weighting, ice skating, lactating," she sings. You wait in vain for the English translation.

The plot revolves around shrill daughter Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez) bringing to their wacky home an uptight suitor (Wesley Taylor) and his even more emotionally constipated parents (Carmello and Terrence Mann) from Ohio, a state wholly inhabited by squares, apparently. The Manhattanite Addamses are appalled, and Gomez alienates Morticia by suggesting she's getting old. And that's about it.

It all takes place in a big, old, nasty mansion whose most prominent feature is a set of red curtains in constant motion -- the way they are manipulated for scene changes is far more inventive than any of the choreography Sergio Trujillo comes up with for the chorus of, yup, dancing corpses.

You know things aren't going particularly well when you spend much of an evening at the theater admiring the drapes. So . . .

If you're among the purists

You'll take a knife to your wrists

It's strictly for the tourists!

"The Addams Family"!

The Addams Family

Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Directed and designed by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch. Creative consultant, Jerry Zaks; choreography, Sergio Trujillo; lighting, Natasha Katz; sound, Acme Sound Partners; puppetry, Basil Twist; music direction, Mary-Mitchell Campbell. With Zachary James and Adam Riegler. About 2 1/2 hours. At Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St. Visit http://ticketmaster.com

or call 877-250-2929.

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