Friday, 23 July 2010

The Addams Family, or Oops They Did It Yet Again, or Please, Please, Please Stop

The Addams Family is a classic of what passes for the New Musical in today's world.  Take a well-known TV programme, or comic book character, or famous singer's back catalogue.  Throw shed-loads of money at the production (this one has the most moveable set since the London revival of Oliver and as many pointless special effects as Shrek the Musical, two other notable turkeys).  Hire a couple of Broadway Names.  Result: The Tourist Audience will feel comfortable, and they will come and see it.  I'm delighted that lots of them seemed to be having a rapturous time.  That doesn't get away from the fact that this is A New Musical by numbers.  It doesn't stink quite as totally as Shrek, but it's a damned close run thing.

The problems are legion.  The story is a rewrite of Addams Family Values.  The rewrite removes virtually all the humour (there are approximately three good gags in a two and a half hour show) and transforms a quite witty plot in which Uncle Fester falls in love, Pugsley and Wednesday are sent to summer camp, and the family is threatened with normality, with a desperately sappy plot in which Wednesday falls in love with a decidedly unprepossessing boy from Ohio.  As an aside I suspect the influence of the High School Musical franchise here – presumably children can't be expected to take an interest in the love affair of an uncle, but only in that of two prepubescent teenagers.  Leaving this aside, it is just possible this exceptionally rickety structure might have worked if I'd believed at any point, in any of the characters.  Unfortunately, what is presented is a set of caricatures.  The emotional soul has been surgically removed from this whole show.  Indeed, as things go on one is forced to the conclusion that the writers realised they couldn't do emotion and so resorted to pointing out to us at every turn how fake the whole enterprise is.  That might have worked if the music and lyrics were any good.

Andrew Lippa (a man whose credentials appear pretty thin for this kind of enterprise) is responsible for them.  He appears to be competing for the mantle previously held by Lord Lloyd Webber of writing One Song to the Tune of the Same Song.  The style is easy listening, the lyrics pile cliché upon tedious cliché.  There is no more emotion to be had here than in anything else in the show.  Furthermore, the whole piece is a bizarre throwback to an earlier age.  It is rather as if not only Stephen Sondheim but even Rodgers and Hammerstein had never happened.  This is a modern version of an old-style musical, with playouts so they can change the set, and kick-lines and jazz hands de rigeur in the choreography.  The songs do not move the plot on, there is rarely any reason for the characters to sing, except it is at least a couple of minutes since the previous number, and there are frankly too many of them.  The difference with the best of that earlier time is obvious, George could write a tune, Ira could turn a lyric.  Even Shrek had one good number (even if it did happen in the first five minutes).  Bebe Neuwirth (Morticia Adams) tries her best with “Just around the Corner” but it isn't enough.

To be strictly honest I had not expected the show to be much good.  The word of mouth is pretty terrible, but I had hoped it might be worth seeing on account of Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth.  Sadly this dross sinks even them.  Nathan Lane fares the worst.  He looked tired at points during tonight's performance, and fails to erase the memory of the incomparable Raul Julia in the films.  Julia's Gomez had suavity, and a nice touch of insanity, Lane's is sleazy, seedy, and night-clubish.  You could always understand in the films the Morticia-Gomez connection, it is more of a challenge here.  Neuwirth does much better, and deserves an award for manoeuvrability in a restrictive costume, but the material throws no-one any real favours.  Of the supporting company, the best performances come from Krysta Rodriguez as Wednesday, Jackie Hoffman as Grandma (who probably comes closest of any of them to really suggesting somebody abnormal) and Zachary James as Lurch.

As with Shrek I got more and more bored as the show dragged on, and more and more marvelling as the cast strove mightily to keep this deadly material afloat.  Finally, Morticia and Gomez took the words out of my mouth with their final exchange:

Gomez: Are you unhappy, my dearest? Morticia: Completely.

Where's Runnicles is sorry to have to say that even for the privilege of seeing Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, at these prices you should save your money.  This show cannot be recommended.

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