Stage musicals based on famous movies (even if those famous movies were based on famous comic books) are notoriously a tricky terrain to tread. Especially for someone like me, who somewhat notoriously, am the only person in America that truly hated the Broadway version of “HAIRSPRAY” because the spirit of the movie was nowhere to be seen on that glossy, over-color-saturated stage. Same goes for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Legally Blonde” and it is to Addams Family: The Musical’s credit (playing now @ Kennedy Center through July 29th) that they definitely took some precautions and did what had to be done: they changed the story.
This reiteration of the reiteration of the Charles Addams’ crazy characters, Wednesday is all grown up and, wait for it, IN LOVE. With a regular boy. A boy from Ohio no less. And they’re planning to be together FOREVER. And the parents are coming over for dinner. And, you get one guess how it will all turn out, but maybe you only need half a guess?
The premise is flimsy and nowhere near as sinister (Lukas Beineke is no match in the “family threat” department to Debbie Jellinsky, the gold digging, crazy psychotic, blonde nanny who last tried to infiltrate the Addams cocoon by marriage) but the cast does their best to pull it off, and often, in fact, succeeds.
To put credit where credit is due – men are much stronger than the ladies of the family.
Douglas Sills’s Gomez is a whirly, flamboyant center of action, with a good voice, great posture and plenty of goodwill left in his ham-it-up bag. Stuck in between his wife and his daughter’s wishes, he wiggles and worms his way out of this conundrum with unfailing flair.
Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester (a fat, bald man of indeterminate sexuality, in his own words) is probably the most likable cast member, and is featured in what is probably the most memorable scene in the movie-a serenade to the moon, as imagined by master puppeteer (and BYT favorite) Basil Twist, who manages to somehow make the fabulous sets of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch even more creepy yet enchanting.
The Addams ladies, on the other hand, just lack a little bit of hamminess and/or deadpanness, depending on how you look at it. Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia will probably more remembered for her gravity defying costume than her dancing and Courtney Wolfson as Wednesday is sadly saddled with an underdeveloped character, especially for what is presumably the lead role here. The dead calm of the little, homicidal girl is gone and the young lady before us sings about string quartets and other romantic things, which, in this day and age of kids-killing-kids-bestsellers and torture-porn-movies makes little sense even for a kid who didn’t grow up being raised to enjoy a good Q&A session on an antique Spanish Inquisition chair.
Somehow, between 1950 and 2012, the Addamses went from being outre to, well, being quaint and this re-imagining of their universe won’t do much to change that.
Still, it must be noted- the show does fly by, and over two hours of murder puns and jazz hands and song titles like “Crazier than You” and “Full Disclosure” could have been very wearing yet I could see, as we walked out, that every single person in Kennedy Center’s Opera House had themselves a truly happy unhappy time.
What we have on our hands here is nothing groundbreaking, but instead-solid entertainment best consumed with an open mind and a body high on sugar. And that is nothing to scoff at.