The Addams Family
They're none too creepy or kooky, not mysterious or spooky, and only sporadically ooky - they’re the Addams Family. The spooky thing about seeing The Addams Family on Broadway this past Saturday night was the chaos and drama going on outside the theatre.
About 90 minutes before the curtain, a T-shirt vendor alerted the police to a suspicious SUV parked on Broadway and 45th - an SUV with smoke emanating from it. It turns out there was an amateur bomb in the truck, but New York’s finest diffused the situation and at this time, the investigation is still ongoing. At the time, however, most of the theatre district was blocked off, making it rather difficult to walk the one block from the subway to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, which is currently home to the Addams family mansion. The trouble theatre goers had getting to the theatre led the production team to hold the curtain for about 20 minutes, so the show began a little after 8:20, instead of 8. (While I was in the theatre waiting, I had no idea what was going on. When I was walking to the theatre, I just thought there was a lot of pedestrian traffic, which is not at all unusual for the Times Square area. Tourists often make it difficult to get through the streets - I admit it: I’m a total snot about this and have no patience for tourists getting in my way. That said, I thought maybe POTUS or some other high profile person was in town, causing the police to change traffic patterns and that’s what was causing the extra street activity. It wasn’t until someone got on the god-mike in the theatre to say that because so many people were having trouble making their way to the theatre they were holding the curtain that I began to suspect anything. Finally, Bebe Neuwirth got on the mike (I’d know her voice anywhere) and announced that the show would be starting in three minutes - everyone rejoiced.)
Unfortunately, I can’t report that The Addams Family was entirely worth the wait. Moments here or there were good, but overall it was lackluster. I won’t say it was disappointing because - due to the buzz I’d been hearing - I didn’t have very high expectations, but I was looking forward to seeing Bebe on stage and seeing Krysta Rodriguez in a featured role. Both actresses were good, but they weren’t enough to make up for the flaws of the much hyped production.
My main complaint about the show is that it’s all schtick but nothing quite sticks. Everyone has their bits and they’re really presented as bits. I actually felt a little manipulated - like I was being taken for a ride rather than on a ride. See, it felt like the script, after each bit, said in the stage directions, “Hold for laughs.” The actors would do their bit, hold for laughs, and hold a little longer to get the kind of laugh they wanted, and then return to the action of the show. As such, there were hardly any connections among the cast. Everyone was just trying to be funny. Yes, some of the jokes or bits were funny but I don’t like being told what to laugh at or when. There was nothing organic about the humor and the relationships didn’t feel real.
An old drama teacher of mine once remarked that there’s nothing worse than a comedian who laughs at his own jokes. Nathan Lane is this kind of performer. On an episode of Studio 60, “The Cold Open,” Harriet, a performer on the SNL-like comedy show, asks Matt, the head writer and co-executive producer, “I got a laugh at the table read when I asked for the butter in the dinner sketch. I didn’t get it at the dress. What did I do wrong?” Matt responds, “You asked for the laugh.” “What did I do at the table read?” “You asked for the butter.” Nathan Lane kept asking for the laugh instead of asking for the butter. His schtick is pretty well known and presumably that’s why he was cast in this role - the producers wanted his brand of comedy - I just don’t find it very funny. He was the same character with the same timing and delivery of every other character he’s played - only this time he had a Spanish-ish accent. He might have been the worst offender of those holding too long for laughs. It’s like he was saying to the audience, “You know I made joke. Laugh.” Again, some of these jokes were funny but most of them felt like the writers were trying to make a joke instead of just being funny.
There were some highlights, though. Krysta Rodriquez, who’s had success as a chorus or ensemble member in a number of shows, including the original casts of Spring Awakening and In the Heights, finally has a chance to shine here. She has a good voice and is a talented dancer making her a nice fit as Bebe’s daughter. She certainly holds her own on stage with both Bebe and Nathan Lane, and I’m glad she’s having a moment. Moreover, her chemistry with her on-stage beau, Lucas, (played by Wesley Taylor - whose voice sounds just like Raul Esparza’s) is maybe the only thing about the show that felt real. Their love song duet, “Crazier Than You,” smacked a little of the touching song “Perfect for You,” from Next to Normal, but I didn’t mind because the “kids” seemed so earnest and it provided a really nice moment for the lovebirds. Kudos to the two up and coming performers for asking for the butter.
And Bebe Neuwirth is a great performer. Unfortunately she underused, particularly in the first act. I started to get what I came for in the second act, though, when she opened the act with the number, “Just Around the Corner.” But even this didn’t thrill the way I wanted it to because the Astaire winning actress didn’t do much dancing. Finally, in the penultimate number of the show, “Tango de Amor,” she literally hitched up her dress, and showed off those gams and everything they can do. She tangoed across that stage like the expert dancer she is and pumped some much needed energy into a somewhat boring show.
Speaking of the tango, I should note that the choreography is very good. Sergio Trujillo is fast becoming one of the most in demand choreographers - he’s currently represented on the boards with four shows: Jersey Boys, Next to Normal, Memphis and The Addams Family. What I like best about his style is that he doesn’t quite have a distinct style. With Susan Stroman, you can expect a lot of kicks. With Rob Ashford, you can expect a lot of athleticism. I can’t put my finger on Trujillo’s signature style other than to say that he really develops a dance-language that is specific to each show. (Memphis and The Addams Family are both eligible for Tony awards this year; I doubt he’ll be nominated twice and compete against himself, what with great choreography from Bill T. Jones, Steven Hoggett, Rob Ashford and Twyla Tharp in the running, but I hope that he is nominated for Memphis and not The Addams Family. The Addams’s dance moves were good but they were nothing compared the boogie shoes in motion down on Beale.)
After the tango, the show came to an all too abrupt conclusion. Well, it’s not that the ending came too soon - the show is two hours, 35 minutes, with intermission - but in the end everything was tied up a little too quickly and neatly. It all just felt kind of rushed.
Despite my unenthusiastic reaction to it - which is not dissimilar to professional critic’s reactions - audiences are loving this. To begin the overture and the entr’acte, a piano starts in with those famous vamps and the audience responds immediately by clapping in time when its their turn. (You know - da na na, na, clap, clap, etc.) Plus, the show is selling to near capacity each week and making a killing at the box office. So where is the disconnect between what the critics think and the audience’s propensity to eschew the critics and come see the show? I think it’s here: The critics are much more well attuned to the behind-the-scenes troubles and gossip of the show. They know about the shaky production in Chicago. They know that Jerry Zaks was brought in as a “creative consultant” during the Broadway transfer. They know about all the notes passed between classes and what he said about what she said. Therefore, they have very specific expectations of what the show should be. The general theatre going audience doesn’t have these expectations. They don’t know all the drama surrounding the show. They know the Addams Family brand; they know Nathan Lane is supposed to be fantastic. They know Bebe Neuwirth is fantastic. They know (or make the assumption that) this will be a crowd pleaser, particularly for the whole family. And I suppose it is. But there are other shows on the boards that fit that description - like Wicked and Memphis (and American Idiot, if you’re running with a rocking crowd!) - that I would sooner recommend.