Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Addams Family, PlayhouseSquare

(Wednesday, Corntey Wolfson, and Pugsley, Patrick D. Kennedy, at playtime.)

To call a Broadway musical “cute” would seem to be damning with faint praise. And while damning may be a bit strong, faint praise is about all that one can conjure up for The Addams Family, now at PlayhouseSquare.

This lukewarm effort is based on the ghoulish New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams, and borrows occasionally from the beloved TV series starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones.

Having been reworked since its Broadway run, under the direction of veteran Jerry Zaks, the play is reputedly now more focused. But it still labors through many scenes that feel like standard musical comedy filler.

TAF features a close, loving nuclear family that glories in exactly those things everyone else in society views as horrific—from torture and “rats as big as dachshunds” to death itself.

Led by patriarch Gomez and his sepulchral wife Morticia, the Addams clan (including Pugsley, Uncle Fester, Grandma and butler Lurch) has to deal with their oddball teenage daughter Wednesday’s engagement to a normal young fellow named Lucas.

Following the successful plot structure of La Cage Aux Folles, the average folks are coming to the weirdos’ house (in this case, a mansion in Central Park) to meet the future in-laws for dinner.

The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice lifts some gags from the old cartoons and makes up some new stuff, and a lot of it is fairly clever. When Lucas’s mom asks if the Addams have a “little girls room,” Gomez laments that they used to but that they “recently let all the girls go.”

In a similar way, some of the songs by Andrew Lippa have fleeting moments of sharp-edged wit, but most of the tunes are bland and eminently forgettable.

In the role of Gomez, Douglas Sills sings well and is immensely likeable, and that’s part of the problem—he tries too hard. One pines for the sly lasciviousness of TV’s Astin as he pursued his wife with single-minded ardor and his murmured “querida mia” endearments.

There wasn’t much chemistry between Sills and Morticia, part of which may have been due to an understudy, Christy Morton, playing Morticia at this performance, the second night of the run.

The supporting roles, which include a phalanx of Addams dusty ancestors, are handled competently, but without any standout comic moments.

The larger difficulty, however, is a predictable storyline and several scenes, particularly in the second act, that do nothing to advance the plot or the enhance the characters. For instance, Fester’s love affair with the moon is odd, but not in ghoulish way. It seems more of an excuse to trot out a sappy song, “The Moon and Me,” complete with some not-so-amazing stage effects.

In another scene, there’s a big setup for a joke about slipping Lucas’s mom (a hard-working Crista Moore) a truth serum-type potion intended for another. But her payoff, her song “Waiting,” laments her loveless marriage in a wandering and unfunny way: “Waiting, fixating, debating, lose weighting, lactating…”

While less than superior in many respects, The Addams Family still manages to be cute. And there are worse things than that.

The Addams Family

Through April 22 at the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1518 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000.

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