Friday, January 08, 2010

Addams Family: Relatively Improved but Issues Remain

Theatre Review

The Addams Family (a new musical)
Ford Center/Oriental Theatre, Chicago

Long before The Addams Family came to Chicago for a pre-Broadway run, I augmented my nosebleed subscription series seat--for a pre-Thanksgiving preview performance--with a third-row orchestra ticket for last night. This seemed like a good idea back in May, when after hearing that Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth would head the cast, I assumed I would get a second and better chance to appreciate a stellar new musical--ideally on par with The Producers--as it crystallized its fine-tuning before heading for an NYC-opening in April.

Unfortunately, despite--or perhaps because of--my high expectations, when I saw the show back on November 24, I was quite disappointed. Though Lane and a stellar cast ensured that it was far from unwatchable, it just seemed too straightforward and far less imaginative than it should have been. As I said on Facebook at the time, the Addams Family needed to be "altogether ookier." Forget the Producers, it wasn't even as good as Young Frankenstein (the musical). Understanding that it was still in previews at that time, I would have given it @@1/2 (out of @@@@@).

So especially with the snow making getting downtown a bit more chilling, I didn't exactly head into the Oriental Theatre last night with great expectations. In his official review, Chris Jones of the Tribune pretty much agreed with my thoughts, and while subsequently revealing that changes were being made and Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks was being brought in to helm (and help) the show, Jones said the most substantive revisions wouldn't be seen until the Addams relocated to New York.

Well, whether due as much to my up-close seat than any specific changes--the details of which I really couldn't recall--I enjoyed the show considerably more last night than I did in November. To the point that if someone simply asked if I liked it, I would say "yes" rather than "no."

That said, it still isn't fantastic--which the Producers was even in pre-Broadway previews--but at this point, I would say The Addams Family is on par with Young Frankenstein and Spamalot, which I didn't love nearly as much as others did. In talking with an usher after the show, she verified that they had cut at least one song and did a lot of tightening, which I guess made the whole thing seem a lot better. Lane, Neuwirth, Kevin Chamberlain (Uncle Fester), Krysta Rodriguez (Wednesday), Terrence Mann (the original Javert in Broadway's Les Miz; the father of Wednesday's boyfriend here) and the whole cast were really great to watch, especially from a prime seat.

Hopefully as it heads to Times Square, Zaks and the existing creative team can make it another leap better without messing it up, which assuredly happens sometimes. Where I think the show still falls far short of brilliant is in the music, or more precisely the lyrics. Although composer & lyricist Andrew Lippa is obviously talented, the songs here just don't have the imagination and verve that Mel Brooks, Stephen Sondheim or the writers of Hairspray, Avenue Q or Legally Blonde might have brought to the wonderfully weird characters and promising premise. I would also love to see Lane occasionally step out of character and make dead-pan quips (as he slyly did in the Producers), like perhaps telling Neuwirth as Morticia that she's not nearly as creepy as Lilith Crane.

So while I followed The Producers to Broadway, Los Angeles, London, Cleveland and beyond, if I'm able to get to New York this year, unless it really earns raves, I doubt I would make a point of seeing The Addams Family again, certainly not ahead of Spider-Man and American Idiot, unless those two tank.

But at least I'm far happier today than I would have been if I'd wasted $110 on a family that wasn't any more entertainingly dysfunctional than it was six weeks ago.

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