Don't ever bury the body before checking the pulse. After the savaging The Addams Family suffered in New York after its premiere in April 2010, who knew there was life left anywhere in it? But there is, and the touring production, after a major reworking, is like seeing Frankenstein sing and dance. Oh, wait, that's another show...
Based upon the famously macabre, witty New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams (as well as the beloved TV show and the first movie version), the show was called "ghastly" and a "collapsing tomb" (New York Times), "ill-formed and one-dimensional" (Variety), "half-baked" (New York Daily News), and "crackles with the intensity of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber fighting over a Twinkie" (New York Post).
Yet the musical had an impressive pedigree: book by the Jersey Boys team of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; songs by Wild Party composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa; dances by Memphis choreographer Sergio Trujillo; sets and direction by Shock-Headed Peter team Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch; puppets by theater wizard Basil Twist; and shining stars in Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, as Gomez and Mortitia.
After weak Chicago previews, creative duo McDermott and Crouch were gone, while Broadway super hotshot director Jerry Zaks was in. The overhaul kept the show going through the year-and-a-half New York run, but sales never caught up. The lure of a lucrative, long, international tour, brought about by the warm memories of the TV show, kept the producers tinkering. The script was jettisoned, the octopus in the basement got the hook, new songs were written, and this fresh-blooded version is what producer Stuart Oken calls The Addams Family 3.0. The musical was resurrected.
It'll never be South Pacific, but "ghastly" has been neatly replaced with "gleeful." The show still has a Wicked demographic -- Wednesday Addams (Cortney Wolfson) has been updated to a young woman in love, prompting the overused plot of the weirdo Addams clan meeting the square in-laws. There are still too many anthems, which kept the flow stumbling instead of rolling smoothly, but the original cartoon characters are in full portraiture, and we can't get enough of Blake Hammond (Uncle Fester), who stops the show with a visual coup de theatre in "The Moon and Me," as he floats rubber-legged in the night sky with his new love, kicking it around like something out of Chaplin.
Patrick D. Kennedy, as little Pugsley, who doesn't want to lose his sister because who'll torture him?, is a true Broadway babe who belts like Merman and mugs like Lahr. The juicy blood-red curtain has a life of its own (a perfect Addams touch), although Douglas Sills (Gomez) and Sara Gettelfinger (Mortitia) have some of their cartoon life sucked out of them, the result of the focus being thrown to Wednesday. Pippa Pearthree plays Grandma as a wily old hippie, while Tom Corbeil (faithful retainer Lurch) adds droll sparkle to his ghoulish (and tall) role -- can zombies sparkle? The square Beinekes are nicely rounded out by Martin Vidnovic and Crista Moore (parents Mal and Alice) and Brian Justin Crum (Wednesday's main squeeze and crossbow target).
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Faults still remain. Lippa's serviceable score is instantly forgettable, and the dance numbers are deadly (not a good thing even in this context). Yet the new, improved version casts a warm, family-friendly vibe that, when it catches the Addams' patented combo of morbid whimsy, is immensely funny and visually stunning. The audience had a ball opening night.
It's alive! It's alive!
The cartoonish Addams haunt the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, only until January 15. Purchase tickets online at www.thehobbycenter.org or call 800-982-ARTS (2787). $40-$90.