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The Addams Family -- Theater Review

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As with so many high-concept Broadway shows these days, one gets the feeling from "The Addams Family" that artistic inspiration pretty much ended with the pitch meeting. It's as if once Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia Addams were on the table, all of the creatives felt they could take it easy.

Indeed, the casting of the two Broadway stalwarts was a perfect one, as Lane, sporting a comically thick Spanish accent, brings his ever-reliable comic genius to the role, and Neuwirth -- well, she looks like she was born to play Morticia.

Unfortunately, book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who collaborated on a little musical called "Jersey Boys," seem to have phoned it in with this musical adaptation of Charles Addams' comically macabre cartoons, which have served as the basis for the classic television series and two feature films.

The story line -- in which grown daughter Wednesday falls in love with an outsider, resulting in the inevitable culture clash between the bizarre Addams clan and the young man's straitlaced parents from (where else?) Ohio -- plays like a virtual retread of "La Cage aux Folles," which coincidentally is back on the boards.

The hackneyed plot might have been serviceable if there were enough funny jokes in the mix, but despite Lane and the rest of the cast's best efforts, more often than not the humor falls flat.
Where the obviously expensive show does shine, not surprisingly, is in the design elements, from the elaborate gothic scenery and costumes by the Improbable Theatre's ("Shockheaded Peter") Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch to the wonderfully imaginative and clever puppets designed by Basil Twist.

(McDermott and Crouch, incidentally, are credited as the show's directors, but the highly mixed reactions to the Chicago tryout resulted in Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks being brought in as "creative consultant." It's not unreasonable to assume that he primarily is responsible for the final product.)

Andrew Lippa's score doesn't help matters, containing not a single memorable tune. The opening number, "When You're an Addams," gets the job done in humorously introducing the characters, including a chorus of dancing corpses. But the music is indistinctive, the lyrics not terribly funny, and Neuwirth's would-be showstopper, "Just Around the Corner," just doesn't cut it. Only in isolated moments, like when Gomez and Morticia cut loose in a torrid tango, does the musical give the feeling of what might have been.

Considering the large lineup of characters, it's not surprising that few of the performers stand out. (Thing, by the way, is reduced to an opening cameo.) Kevin Chamberlin and Jackie Hoffman fare best as Uncle Fester and Grandma, respectively, with the former comically shining in his love ballad "The Moon and Me" and the latter garnering big laughs with a series of vulgar old-age jokes.

Zachary James' largely silent Lurch and young Adam Riegler's Pugsley certainly fit the bill physically, but musical-theater veterans Terrence Mann and Carolee Carmello don't have much to work with in their stock roles as the befuddled parents who, thanks to the Addamses, manage to get their inner freaks on. As the young lovers, Krysta Rodriguez's boringly normal Wednesday and Wesley Taylor are bland.

To be fair, the packed house at a recent preview seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, though clearly they were primed to do so. (Concession sales of the endless varieties of high-priced merchandise were booming.) The familiar finger-snapping theme song was greeted with great applause, and the numerous sight gags were met with raucous laughter. The show already is doing sellout business, and the likely lukewarm reviews probably won't hurt too much, at least in the short term.

But "Addams Family" nonetheless seems an opportunity missed, lacking the comic inspiration that would have made it more than just a family alternative to "Wicked."

Venue: Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York (Runs indefinitely)
Cast: Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Kevin Chamberlin, Jackie Hoffman, Zachary James, Adam Riegler, Wesley Taylor, Krysta Rodriguez
Book: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice
Music-lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Directors-designers: Phelim McDermott, Julian Crouch
Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Creative consultant: Jerry Zaks
Lighting designer: Natasha Katz
Sound designer: Acme Sound Partners
Puppetry: Basil Twist
Presented by Stuart Oken, Roy Furman, Michael Leavitt, Five Cent Productions, Stephen Schuler, Decca Theatricals, Scott M. Delman, Stuart Ditsky, Terry Allen Kramer, Stephanie P. McClelland, James L. Nederlander, Eva Price, Jam Theatricals/Mary Lu Roffe, Pittsburgh CLO/Gutterman-Swinsky, Vivek Tiwary/Gary Kaplan, The Weinstein Company/Clarence LLC and Adam Zotovich/Tribe Theatricals by special arrangement with Elephant Eye Theatrical