Beloved concept fails to hit the right note as a musical

From a comic strip to a television sitcom to the big screen, the Addams family has experienced myriad reincarnations. With the intention to revitalize and grow the characters and story, the Broadway musical take on the macabre family was created in 2010 and later altered for its Los Angeles premiere.

Even though the musical has been reworked and given a makeover to remove some skeletons from the closet, be warned: Many demons continue to haunt this production.

Spotlight on · Blake Hammond plays Uncle Fester in a so-so stage musical adaptation of the beloved television show. - Photo courtesy of Benny Aguayo

Overall, the show is basic musical fare. Over-the-top, articulated acting, shallow characters and simple plot lines create a generic spectacle that caters especially well to casual musical enthusiasts and nostalgic fans of the Addams family cash-cow franchise.

The stock musical elements of the show flaunt nothing groundbreaking and often seem to suffocate what should be a lively, creepy and kooky cast of characters. Hardly timely jokes about Charlie Sheen and teenagers texting are universal enough to merit a laugh, but the jokes serve no other purpose than to elicit cheap giggles; The Addams Family falters in its lack of motive: The show is all skin and bones — no meat.

The characters Gomez (Douglas Sills) and Morticia (Sara Gettelfinger) are as superficial and underdeveloped as possible — lifeless by any sense of the word. Each character is so directed and calculated that actions become predictable and forced, with the players trapped inside Marshall Brickman’s and Rick Elice’s dark writing.

Moreover, the book is simple and uninteresting. The Addams family is known for being off its rockers, but the only off-kilter aspects of the script seem to be the perpetually overused jokes about death. The one aspect that separates the Addams from a “normal” family here makes them unbearable and cliché. The writers corner the story into a graveyard rendition of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and appear to have had only so many options for development after that.

Fear not: Every thematic idea has been explored, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The schizophrenic direction of the story inconsistently floats between lecturing on honesty being the best policy, reminding families that blood is thicker than water and beating to death the connotations of the word “normal.” Though the themes are not necessarily poor topics, none feel executed in a complete and creative manner.

But shallow characters, simple plot lines and superficial morals can be ingredients of a hit Broadway musical. It’s the spectacle — the song, dance, set and costumes — that wills a show to life. But as with the characters and story, the majority of The Addams Family’s theatrical elements are ghastly.

From the Big Apple to Hollywood, The Addams Family saw a revision of almost half of its musical numbers. But if the themes of the show have as many personalities as the living members of the Addams family, the score has as many as the living and dead combined. Gomez’s heritage inspires Flamenco castanets and Spanish guitar, while the Broadway-influenced ballad “Just Around the Corner” and uptempo ditty “Full Disclosure” stretch the orchestration to extremes. With no determined musical theme to tie every piece together, the songs merely add more confusion to the spectacle.

If there’s a redeeming musical number in the entirety of the show — not counting the terribly under-milked Addams Family theme song — it’s Uncle Fester’s ode to the moon in “The Moon and Me,” which embodies what this production could have been: mysterious, spooky and inventive. This one scene is pure Broadway magic, complete with a zero-gravity Uncle Fester, lyrical whimsy and what the show is constantly lacking — a true beating heart.

The trouble with The Addams Family is that it relies on fan loyalty and nostalgic memories of the beloved characters to carry the two-and-a-half-hour-long production. But devotion can only go so far when Cousin Itt is granted a meager 10 seconds of “face” time. That may be redeemed by Lurch’s angelic surprise during the awkward finale “Move Toward the Darkness,” but it’s not enough to save the show.

If it’s any consolation, The Addams Family musical is all together ooky. The writers got something right.


The Addams Family ends its  run at the Pantages Theatre June 17.