The Addams Family

By Pearl Chen


The Addams Family cast. All photos by Joan Marcus.

I will be honest: I can’t understand why The Addams Family got slammed by so many critics. For a show that provides such a quintessential Broadway experience – spectacular art direction, big-name stars, laugh-out-loud comedy, and crowd-pleasing musical numbers – judging it on anything other than its fun-spirited energy seems beside the point. Forgive me for siding with the masses who have applauded this family-friendly production. (Yes, I, too, snapped my fingers along with those familiar Addams Family theme-song notes in the overture.) When a show provides this much entertainment,  I can’t help but defend it:

Common criticism #1: “The plot is dull and unimaginative.” Gomez and Morticia Addams must face their worst nightmare: Their daughter Wednesday, 18, has fallen in love with a “normal” young man. His middle-America, whitebread family — the complete opposite of their morbid, creepy, kooky clan – are coming to dinner.

No, it’s not a nail-biting dark satire, but when it comes to this iconic franchise, plot is really second fiddle to the more important sell of this show – reconnecting us with familiar characters we have grown to love. For this purpose, the storyline is enough to highlight one of the Addams’ appeals: Beyond their twisted universe, they really are just people with desires and fears like the rest of us.  A daughter discovering first love. A mother feeling the pangs of mid-life crisis. A father learning to let go. For all their oddities, the Addams are strangely relatable.

What the show lacks in plot intricacy, it more than makes up for in artistic design. Death motifs may permeate the show, but the stage features an absolutely living and breathing set. The Addams family’s mansion, set in Manhattan’s Central Park, is a character all its own.  Staircases, windows, walls slide in and out through a menagerie of scene changes. Cemeteries take on an eerily romantic glow under a sprawling tree. Faint city skylines shimmer below a harvest moon. A ghostly chorus of  family ancestors strut in elaborate, period costumes. Innovative puppets add a magical, fantastical flair.  With big-budget Broadway glam, the Addams Family have never been more in style.


The Addams Family with their ancestors.

Common criticism #2: “Everything from the book to the music/lyrics is corny.” Indeed, the show likes to rhyme. (“Was Napoleon right for Josephine? Was nausea right for Dramamine?”) And yes, much of the music feels almost vaudevillian, allowing the overall effect to seem cartoonish. But what a crime this turned out to be: making Charles Addams’ 30s New Yorker cartoon characters  look like cartoons. That’s just unthinkable.

In a country where the Addams Family has been such an indelible part of our culture, every member of this macabre clan has license to be as much of a caricature as they want to be. This has always been a family of outrageousness. A show that milks their every eccentricity with campy humor – no matter how obvious, “low-brow,” or absurd (like Uncle Fester’s silly love affair with the moon) — isn’t necessarily doing them a disservice. It’s playing to the spirit of a family that has always been off their rocker. Corniness, in the hands of composer Andrew Lippa and writers Mashall Brickman and Rick Elise (Jersey Boys), can feel bizarrely charming. Jokes are funny BECAUSE they’re lame.


Bebe Neuwirth as Moriticia Addams and Nathan Lane as Gomez Addams.

Common criticism #3: “Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth squandered their talents on a show like this.” Oh, but these stars “squander” so well. Neuwirth brings a cool, suave, intentionally detached vibe to Morticia and leads those choreographed ensemble numbers with poise and ease. The night, though, belongs to Lane, who makes for one over-the-top, hyper-Spanish Gomez. The man is a master at turning simple things – like pausing in speech or holding a note too long – into comedic gold. Watching him manipulate each mannerism, tone, and line (“What I lack in height, I make up in shallowness”) makes you wonder why he was snubbed for a Tony this year.

He and the rest of this endearing cast – including Jackie Hoffman in a nutty turn as Grandmama – deserve much more credit than they’ve been given. Not seeing this show just because critics panned it … now that would be truly ghastly.


The Addams Family has an open-ended run at the Lunt-Fontanne theater (46th and 7th). Tickets: $51.50-$126.50

Last 5 posts by Pearl Chen

Posted on 06 Aug 2010 at 3:00am
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