Friday, November 20, 2009

I Don't Usually Mention Theater...

I don't usually mention theater...but last night I went to check out the pre-Broadway Chicago engagement of the brand shiny new musical adaptation of The Addams Family. With Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth starring as Gomez and Morticia, it's practically a guaranteed hit, but i still must tell you that i absolutely loved it. Repeat, for emphasis, with enunciation: Absolutely. Loved. It. Granted, i've been indoctrinated into the Addams clan since early childhood, and that sort of quirky gothic humor hits the nail directly on the head and deep into the part of my brain that elicits all sorts of gleeful joy, so, i may not be most impartial critic. But, i can try, right?



The show draws its basis not from the films or television series, but from the characters outlined in the original set of drawings by Charles Addams. Even so, it feels remarkably complete. All the traits, all the little details and references we associate with the family are realized with love and goofy reverence. Morticia still feels compelled to chop the buds off of flowers, Wednesday still tortures Pugsley, Gomez fences, tangos, and plants kisses rabidly up the arms of his beloved, even Thing makes several appearances. The premise is that Wednesday has grown up. She has reached the age of consent, danced the "Clandango", and is now a woman. Worse than that, she's in love...with a normal boy from Ohio (she met him while shooting down animals in the park with her crossbow). The Addamses, bizarrely social as they are, invite the young man (Lucas) and his parents (Alice and Mal) over for a get-to-know-you dinner. After enduring the trials and tortures of awkward social interaction, the lovebirds declare their intention to marry... surprise, surprise, chaos ensues. In one madcap night, family bonds become strained, romances are tested, and every sort of relationship is put on the ropes. It takes a little while for things to get moving, and at first the music isn't especially stand-out, yet once you're hooked, you're invested, and the show is an absolute joy to watch. It's got a fantastic energy, a dead on sense of timing, and a script loaded with gems. At about three hours long, the show is a little on the overblown side, but in retrospect i can't think of much i would want to see sacrificed.



The cast is fantastic. One expects showmanship and expert comic timing from veterans like Lane and Neuwirth, but it should be said they aren't the only vets in the family. Jackie Hofflund, who i thought was absolutely hysterical in the New York run of Xanadu, is equally outrageous as Grandmother Addams (who may or may not be the family matriarch), she steals several scenes right out from under the others. Frequent Tony nominees Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, and Kevin Chamberlin (Mal, Alice, and Fester, respectively) also put in solid work even as they engage in love affairs with the moon, the Addams's resident squid, and banjo plucking shenanigans. As Wednesday, serious up-and-comer Krysta Rodriguez captures the requisite swings of violent teen angst.



Even more phenomenal than the cast, however, are the sets. If for nothing else, this show has some technical awards coming its way. I'm quite sure i've never seen set design quite like this. The family mansion is realized beautifully, and with no expense, effect, or detail spared. The portraits come to life, the staircases can be jumbled to create any number of different rooms and set-ups, there are chandeliers and New York skylines, open and close shuttered nooks, cemeteries and gigantic trees, crawling monsters under beds, mice being fed to gobbling plants, and Bernice's tentacles snaking up and out of every cranny, flailing wildly in the air. It's beautiful, nostalgic, and a sight to behold. There were several numbers where i sat there in a thrall of childlike wonder seriously just trying to figure out how they just did that live and on stage. Every element is approached imaginatively and used to its full potential, even the curtains reveal and conceal as necessary. I'll even give a shout out to the lighting, as someone certainly understands that what is concealed in shadow can truly make things magic.



If you dig musicals, darkness, raunch and gallows humor...or, you know, just the Addams Family. Try to see this if you can. The characters have been fully developed in a way that i could easily accept, and divorce, from all their other incarnations. I left the theater giddy and though it was closing in on 11 pm, i probably would have walked right back in and sat through another performance. The Addams Family is only in Chicago through January then it moves on to what will hopefully be an extensive engagement on Broadway. Opening night in NYC is April 8, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. This might be worth a trip to see the original cast. I have a soft spot for Bebe.

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