The Addams Family

Capitol Theatre, Sydney, March 23

THE Addams Family is helpfully subtitled The Broadway Musical in case you had the misapprehension you were seeing a play based on the 1960s television series. If only that were so. Instead one is asked to set aside two and a half hours for a plot that would scarcely stretch to 26 minutes on the box. Well, I call it a plot for convenience; it’s a contrivance. Wednesday Addams, all grown up, wants to marry a nice ordinary boy and wishes to bring together his straitlaced family and her kooky one for dinner. (Hands up who thinks that is completely implausible and not very interesting to boot.) Cue misunderstandings and trust hilarity will ensue.

One can understand Broadway wanting to appropriate Charles Addams’s cool, witty, subversive characters – there for the taking, really, along with the bonus extra of the brilliant TV theme music. That staccato four-note, two-snap intro has the audience on board from the get-go, and I must say it’s a long time since I’ve seen six beats do so much work with such ease. But it’s hard to think of a more “who cares?” idea than throwing two disparate families together, even if it were done in a fresh and amusing manner, which it isn’t.

Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, whose Jersey Boys was such a delight, have managed to come up with characters who are sketchier in three dimensions than in the original New Yorker cartoons. Morticia’s long tight gown, Gomez’s uxoriousness, Pugsley’s affection for torture, Lurch’s growl, Fester’s lightbulb moments, a cameo appearance by Cousin Itt – they all tick boxes of recognition without adding a skerrick of story. In fact they aren’t characters – they are a bunch of characteristics. Andrew Lippa’s songs, pleasant enough in themselves, also move nothing forward.

In the space where action might normally be there are pop-culture gags (a Charlie Sheen mention predictably gets a big response), heavy-handed jokes (“I can be impulsive – I just have to think about it first”) and sexual references for the grown-ups. They include a monumentally off-colour remark from Grandma, an example of The Addams Family’s oddly shifting tone. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as a series of extremely expensively produced cabaret acts – it certainly looks splendid – than a tightly structured dramatic work.

John Waters as Gomez and Chloe Dallimore as Morticia lead an expert cast including Teagan Wouters in fine voice as Wednesday. Best is Russell Dykstra, who finds some much needed sweetness and nuance in Uncle Fester. Mostly, though, my impression on opening night was of smoke and mirrors, painting by numbers, buttons pushed. Most dispiriting.

A version of this review appeared in The Australian on March 25.

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