There’s a lot to be said about the opportunity to witness one of drama’s biggest legends before your very eyes – to see the crease of consternation on his forehead before the clipped delivery of a playfully angst-ridden quip, to see the well-honed lines of his smile spread like sunshine in a the stretching depths of a macabre sea. But when all those admittedly impressive feats are not enough to save a musical lucky enough to star this glutinous-with-talent gent, then you truly begin to understand that you have a problem.
Broadway’s “The Addams Family” is a star-studded would-be gem with credits billed as far and away as Nathan Lane (Gomez) and Bebe Neuwirth (Morticia), except the latter, a renowned dance legend, had taken a presumably well-earned vacation and her understudy simply did not have the necessary skills to suitably pull off the tango – a scene that had insane amounts of build-up throughout the entire musical. Charismatic and talented as the actress that was her understudy (Rachel deBenedet) is, the back-up dancers held more gusto and grace in their effortlessly beautiful “Tango de Amor.”
In this respect, “The Addams Family” seemed an imbalanced hub of contradictions. Its performers – every last one – were absolutely wonderful (save for the one dance scene). Especially captivating were Lane and Krysta Rodriguez, who played a distinctly spunky, sardonic and spooky Wednesday (she wants to live off the land by shooting birds from her crossbow).
Pugsley (Adam Riegler) and Uncle Fester (Kevin Chamberlin) were a blast, too.
It was the plot development that needed a Lurch-sized overhaul.
The story is as follows: the titular family celebrates their morbid brilliance as Wednesday informs her parents that her friend Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor) from Ohio is visiting New York City and she’s invited him and his parents, Mal (Terrence Mann) and Alice (Carolee Carmello) over for dinner, so they’d better act normal for once. Cue the “One Normal Night” number. The Beinekes are equally skeptical of this hasty endeavor, but they finally make it to the secluded mansion in the middle of Central Park and hilarity (sometimes) ensues, as Wednesday and Lucas try to create the perfect dynamic to unleash a darkly-devious truth to their relations: they’re getting married.
While many of the plot-twists are painfully predictable, some of the jokes are actually quite hysterical. Others fail, but the actors have phenomenal comedic timing and execution; of course, even impeccable delivery doesn’t save the jokes that have the timely resilience of Grandmama Addams and seem to go on forever.
It’s as though the entire musical was perfectly bisected. Brilliant performances, mediocre plot development; hilarious lines, woefully lame puns; barely passable musical numbers and charming gems a la “Pulled” and “Crazier Than You,” both of which featured the powerful pipes of the lovely Rodriguez.
Incidentally, any love song bearing the latter title automatically wins originality points for its macabre wit and uniqueness, which it delivers in spades – the lively tune was at once sentimental, amusing and somehow incredibly sincere as the two youths compete for the title of most impulsive, spontaneous, love-struck fool, perfectly displaying the pure and chaotic nature of young love. They were a blast to watch, too, fighting over the esteemed right to hold a target apple over the head.
But in the end, it almost felt as though such a delightfully gifted cast deserved a better musical – one with an array of memorable tunes and poignant dialogue. But maybe just the knowledge that the cast can carry almost anything is enough.
Toward the end, Gomez sings about the duality of life – how each dose of happiness contains sadness and each Heaven bears a Hell. All facets of value bear a contradiction.
Maybe the joke’s on us, then; and perhaps, by those rules, the musical is a riveting success.
Either way, don’t expect that aforementioned “normal night.”