Theatre Review: “The Addams Family” @ Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 6/23/11

Out of all the theatres on Broadway, I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time looking around at the theatre itself as I’ve had at the Lunt-Fontanne. The first show I saw here was Beauty and the Beast. I was underwhelmed, bored and a bit unimpressed. Then I saw Disney’s train wreck, The Little Mermaid. I pretty much hated every second of it. And now, I saw the critically-panned musical, The Addams Family. The story, written by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice, was uneven and not the least bit kooky. The uninspired music by Andrew Lippa was mundane and felt super forced, and overall, the performances were creepily bad.

I laughed once in a show that’s 2 1/2 hours long. Once. There were some light-hearted chuckles by the audience throughout (and of course the children laughed at all of the body humor), but most of the time I was rolling my eyes and shaking my head wondering if this was really, actually happening.

Roger Rees, who replaced Nathan Lane in the part of Gomez, tried to hold the show together with his not-so-witty banter with his wife, Morticia (Bebe Neuwirth) but everything fell flat. The jokes, energy and beats were all missing. You could tell that the character choices had more to do with Nathan Lane than Gomez Addams and Rees just couldn’t keep up. It felt like a bad impersonation of Nathan Lane.

Poor Bebe. With all of the headache and gossip in the out-of-town try-out in Chicago and then the critics panning it once it landed on Broadway, it was a surprise to all that the legendary Bebe Neuwirth signed on for over a year on Broadway. After the performance I saw, Neuwirth only had four shows left. And let’s just say, you could tell she was done. Her voice was shot (sounded a bit like a dying frog), her acting was lackluster and the tango in the second act was forgettable. Brook Shields almost sounds like a better choice.

Wednesday Addams (Rachel Potter) has the only good song in the entire show: “Pulled”. She nailed it too! It’s no doubt that Potter is talented, but her relationship with Lucas Beineke (Jesse Swenson) was weirdly similar to the relationship between Natalie and Henry in Next to Normal. Not to mention they both talked/sung the show in almost exactly the same way as Natalie and Henry does. It felt really strange to me. It came to full fruition when they sang the duet, “Crazier Than You” in the middle of the second act. Watch or listen to that song thinking it was in Next to Normal – it will kind of blow your mind (and not necessarily in a good way).

Grandma (Jackie Hoffman) and Alice Beineke (Heidi Blickenstaff) were highlights in this very dreary show. Both characters made the most of what little material they had. The one line I did laugh at was the Grandma’s comment about peeing herself. Blickenstaff’s transformation from rhyming housewife to crazy sex-goddess in “Full Disclosure” was hilarious, but the Act 1 closer was so awful that I couldn’t wait for it to end.

The only reason that this show has any energy is because of the beautiful reshaping of the set in every scene by the useless “greek chorus” of ghosts. (The ghostly chorus was a really bad idea.) Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, directed the show and designed the set. It’s obvious that they knew what they were doing in regards to the set. The slight alterations to create new rooms and settings in the Addams’ house was spectacular. It was the best part of the show! And that part of the show will not be seen when it’s touring across America. I don’t even want to imagine the show without the Broadway set or special effects. This show will lose the only magic that it has when it goes out on tour in a bus & truck.

I honestly thought the critics were a bit harsh with their reviews when it opened last April 2010. I thought it couldn’t be that bad if it’s been selling well for over a year! Well it is that bad, but there’s two reasons that this show has stayed open. The Addams Family is a hugely popular franchise — a name that tourists from around the world will recognize. And secondly, parents have a strong affinity to it because they grew up with the television show and so they want to bring their children to a kid-friendly musical that doesn’t have Disney stamped all over it. There’s a market for that type of entertainment in Times Square (hence the reason why Spiderman Turn Off the Dark is almost sold-out every night). It has nothing to do with the quality of music or how well the book is put together. The tourists want to be entertained so that their children are happy. And somehow, they all walk out of the theatre happily singing, “dun-dun-dun-dun *snap* *snap*” (even though the quintessential Addams Family theme is no where to be found except in the overture and bows/exit music).

For a show that has so much potential (and material to pull from), I felt cheated. Charles Addams, the original creator, is a genius. It’s sad that his work is being featured on Broadway in a spiritless show, full of unimaginative music and a horrible plot. There’s a lot of effort and work in this show for something that feels half-assed, at best.

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9 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “The Addams Family” @ Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 6/23/11

  1. I guess even very talented people (Bebe, Jackie, Heidi) need a solid paycheck.
    It’s like there are two separate realms of musical theater happening: the tourist- and kid-friendly/Disney/jukebox shows, and the quality stuff. Occasionally lightning strikes and everyone wins (Wicked, Billy Elliot). But I now think that life’s too short (and Broadway too far away, and tickets too expensive) to waste another 2.5 hours sitting through the junk. If I learned this lesson, then maybe Spider-Man wasn’t a total loss.

  2. Wow. And I thought I was super critical. I remember seeing Beauty and the Beast as a young child and love the magic of it all, but when I saw it on Broadway with Donny Osmond, everything was wrong. The acting was terrible and the chorus had no energy. But that wasn’t the show’s fault. The script and music themselves are faultless.

    I enjoyed the Little Mermaid enough to wonder why it didn’t last longer on Broadway. The sets were beautiful, and most of the new music was lovely. I had three complaints about the show and how it could have improved. 1) Norm Lewis was terrible. I saw him in Les Mis and in Mermaid and he didn’t act much at all in either, even with his gorgeous voice. 2) The guy who played Eric showed no passion. 3) The ending was just plain weird and happened too fast.

    If you want a real example of a Disney flop, look at Tarzan. It had good music, sets, and such, but the story wasn’t engaging the way it was in the movie. It lacked a love triangle, and the villain was hardly in the show at all.

    My main problem with Disney shows is that they don’t flow well. They’re very choppy as they move from scene to scene. Even Lion King has this fault. The only Disney show that doesn’t have this fault is Mary Poppins, which I absolutely loved (especially the part where Bert tap dances on the ceiling).

    But like I said, overall, Disney could do better. I get that they revived Broadway in a way, but they could do better. And now I hear that they are doing a full show of Aladdin in Seattle that may or may not make it to Broadway. Supposedly they’re trying to capitalize on the possibility of having just regional theaters do their new shows.

    I like the idea of having an Aladdin show. After all, the show at California Adventure may be fast and short, but it’s hilarious. From what I’ve read, it sounds like they’re taking away the funny side of the Genie, though, and giving it Aladdin and his new sidekicks to make the show more like the slapstick humor found in “The Road” movies.

    Well, it’ll be an interesting future for Disney theatricals, that’s for sure.

  3. And I’d just like to say in response to this review and to “manmom’s” comment, I don’t really consider the lesser shows junk or a waste of time if I can still choose to enjoy them. Yes, I love serious shows like Billy Elliot and Wicked and Book of Mormon, but a good fantasy, a good laugh, something to relax to that won’t necessarily make me think hard… I can and will enjoy that too.

  4. As far as my thoughts on Addams family go:

    Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane made those parts. I saw the show in its early months in NYC, and they fit the show for what it was perfectly. The Happy/Sad song was especially touching. My favorite moment in the show.

    I’ll admit I was a bit bored at parts. The music was not what I expected considering the TV show and movies. The dinner table scene went on for far too long and had an extremely cheesy, unrealistic premise. Although other more unrealistic premises were far more enjoyable, like Fester’s love for the moon.

    So, despite its faults, I considered it a good, enjoyable show. I ended up loving the music. I listen to songs like “Let’s not talk about anything else but love” and “Death is just around the corner” all the time.

    I agree that the sets were spectacular. I’m sorry to hear they won’t be in the tour version.

    Sure, the show could have been better. But I refuse to let that ruin the theater going experience for me. I can be critical once for the sake of reviewing the show, but I admit I like the music and I wouldn’t mind seeing the show again.”

    p.s. Sometimes I think it’s a shame they don’t hire people like you and me to watch their shows and tell them how to rewrite them for the better – kind of like that guy in Curtains (a favorite musical of mine).

    1. I haven’t seen the tour version so it’s mere speculation and not total fact about the sets, but I can only imagine after I saw the ridiculous sets of the touring production of “Shrek”.

  5. I managed to avoid The Addams Family on my trips to NYC. I tired around with seeing it on tour (it’s coming to Nashville in the fall), but I think I’m going to pass. I’ve heard very few decent things said about this show from critics & viewers alike. :/

  6. I saw the show on the last preview before opening. Nathan Lane singlehandedly made the show watchable, although the script was clearly a mess. As for Bebe, she was just as disinterested last year as when you saw her in June.

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