The Addams Family debuted on Broadway in 2010 to mixed reviews. Re-written for its US national tour in 2011, the show has been about many things.
It is still about many things. Family. Love. “Normalcy”. Dark vs light. Taking its inspiration from the original Addams Family comic strip by Charles Addams, one thing about those ghoulish funny origins remain: the single-panel-style gag.
Every scene is a disconnected gag shoehorned into a plot, and it’s not a bad plot, in essence: Wednesday falls in love with a “normal” boy, Lucas, and before they’re married she wants their families to meet, while Gomez must keep their engagement secret from Morticia. Conflict, drama, loyalty, love. All hallmarks of good musicals.
But despite great performances, this musical isn’t good. Perhaps it’s that the show doesn’t quite manage the audience’s expectations. The show’s general look, feel and premise promises to be one thing: a darkly funny look at the family, a heart with bite, but the realisation of that premise is more of an Addams-themed revue with lighthearted delivery and inconsequential conflicts.
It’s unfortunate that those potentially great themes are hidden under childish, vaguely misogynistic jokes, puerile laugh-grabs about bodily functions and Charlie Sheen, and an Andrew Lippa score that has been tweaked too many times to offer any kind of pleasant, concordant overall sound.
The brightest spot of this musical is in Wednesday’s (Teagan Wouters) song about the strangeness of falling in love with Lucas. ‘Pulled,’ about all the nauseatingly cute things in the world suddenly becoming actually cute because you’re in love, is a fantastic song and Wouters has a strong belt and appealing deadpan-with-a-twinkle-in-her-eye demeanour to pull it off with aplomb. The song doesn’t really fit, tonally, with the rest of the show anymore, but thank goodness it remains from the original production, because it hits all the right spots and makes the rest of the show more bearable.
Also making this show worth a look-in for the musical theatre aficionado are the other two leading ladies in the cast: a deliciously vampish Chloe Dallimore playing Addams matriarch Morticia, and her through-the-looking-glass counterpart, Katrina Retallick, as Lucas’s mother Alice Beineke. Indeed, Retallick lights up the stage with her inspirational rhymes, sunny yellow costume, and potion-induced madness – her song, ‘Waiting’ is incredible and Retallick’s voice has never been better.
The rest of the cast is more than able; a shaky Tim Maddren as Lucas will probably settle into the role as it goes on and his voice with it. The ensemble of undead Addams ancestors are a strong singing-and-dancing support to the main action, even if their dramatic function is unclear. The youngest-Addams Pugsley, with a rotating cast of boys undertaking the role, is a much-needed shot of youth on stage. The youth is so needed because the structure of the jokes is less ‘classic’ than it is ‘old’; cringing Dad jokes and the old sitcom staple about women becoming their mothers are in abundance. Even the timing feels old and aggressively slow.
Uncle Fester (Russell Dykstra) has a baffling number about being in love with the moon which sits awkwardly in the second act of the show. It does, at least, serve to break up Act Two as being nothing but resolution after resolution to the shallow first act conflict. It’s not clear that The Addams Family knew how to end, so it ends with an ensemble song and dance number about looking into the darkness and smiling.
Nothing about these Addams is dark or macabre or creepy. The home of the dark and quirky for all things other or queer doesn’t exist here; a joke about a relative in a dress is more transphobic than inclusive. The Addams Family the musical is the underworld without teeth and with a cartoon heart that only beats when it wants you to recognise someone on stage is having a moment, like in the supposedly heartfelt Gomez-to-daughter number “Happy/Sad”, which for some strange reason is not a duet but rather a cardboard cut-out of emotion.
Despite issues with the book, the audience on the night of final preview more than enjoyed themselves. Sold out, the house was packed and the laughs were many and generous. It’s striking a chord somewhere, but don’t look for depth or musical and narrative achievement.