Charles Addams published over 1,300 cartoons in his life, beginning in 1940. His viewpoint was macabre, his sense of humor pitch black. The Addams Family television series aired two seasons from 1964-66, and during that time New Yorker editor Wallace Shawn refused to publish Addams Family cartoons in his magazine. He may have had a point – the show was far removed from Addams’ genius, why endorse it? Barry Sonnenfeld, cinematographer-turned-director, made two Addams feature films in 1991 and 1993. If they weren’t quite as black as Addams might have liked, they were visually gorgeous, filled with inventive screen compositions that lingered in the mind (they’re touchstones for my stage work.)
The Addams Family musical premiered on Broadway in 2010. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice wrote the book, Andrew Lippa wrote the score. The show has a few dozen gags taken right from Addams, foolproof if the actors and creative team know his work. (On the other hand, it can be painful to watch the same jokes delivered by performers who don’t understand them.) The plot that strings the jokes together is banal – a conventional romance that not only betrays the material but goes out of its way to avoid being interesting. The songs are instantly forgettable – I’ve seen the show twice this year and I can’t recall a single melody.
I liked a few things about The Capitol Summerstage production: William Lanfear’s wigs and makeup were spectacular; Gail Tucker and Peggy Frantz’s costumes were excellent; Ryan Decker’s end-of-show baritone solo as Lurch was exactly what I’d hoped for (gorgeous and funny); Randy Fields had a nice bit of choreography in the climactic tango number. Unfortunately, most of the staging and theater craft (particularly lighting) didn’t contribute to a cohesive vision, and the actors and ensemble often seemed to drift according to their own devices. (It’s the first time in recent memory I didn’t see a Capitol audience stand at the end.) Particular disappointments were a lackluster The Moon and Me, which made New Hartford High School’s almost-successful staging of the same number look like Broadway by comparison; also the fact that no footlights or dry ice fog were used (the first and simplest ingredients in a horror-comedy fantasy musical.)
By the end of the show I was cranky; a once-great program had again squandered the efforts of dozens of talented and committed performers. Then I saw the youngest member of the cast, a ten year-old I know. He was exhausted but blissed out on the high of having finished another show. I know the feeling. I decided it wasn’t all bad. Here’s hoping for the next one. Crap, the next one is Legally Blonde The Musical. Here’s hoping for the one after that.