It's not uncommon for families to partake of favorite parlor games, innocent competitions like Charades or board games like Monopoly. But in the new (and newly revised) musical The Addams Family, which is currently haunting the Fox Theatre, the lovably morose clan headed by Gomez and Morticia go in for something slightly more ghoulish. They like to play Full Disclosure, where you drink a steamy brew from a sacred silver chalice and then reveal one of your innermost secrets. In the spirit of confession, perhaps here at the outset I should fully disclose that until this week I have lived my life Addams-deprived. I never saw the 1960s television series or the 1990s movies or even any of the celebrated Charles Addams New Yorker cartoons. I came to this show totally cold; I cannot put it into context or historical perspective.
I did vaguely hear that critics were generally cool to its first incarnation on Broadway eighteen months ago. But ever more frequently, flawed New York shows are using national tours as an opportunity to effect changes. The revisions must be working, because this Addams Family neophyte had a delightful time at the Fox. The story line about daughter Wednesday's (Cortney Wolfson) jarring decision to marry a normal boy from Ohio (Brian Justin Crum) and leave home — "What if she never tortures me any more?" despairs her younger brother Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) — provides a framework for a plot that is amusing, engaging and even surprising. The script by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) is often laugh-out-loud hilarious.
There's a lot of intelligence here. The singing and dancing ensemble, for instance, appears in the guise of fanciful family ancestors. One night a year (and this is that night) the ancestors are released from their graves in Central Park to glide about the premises. In Act One the ancestors are little more than visually intriguing, Fellini-esque adornments, but by evening's end they become integral to the plot. The songs by Andrew Lippa are an eclectic bunch. Sometimes the lyrics seem to lapse into laundry lists of rhymed words. On the other hand, "One Normal Night," which begins as Wednesday's simple plea for her family to behave normally when her prospective in-laws come to dinner, escalates into a kind of crazed Bach fugue. How many Broadway musicals reference Bach and Fellini? In what appears to be a simply constructed show, something devilishly ambitious is being attempted.
The cast is uniformly excellent. This tour started only two weeks ago in New Orleans, and some of the actors are still honing their timing. But as Morticia, Sara Gettelfinger seems to have slipped into her somber character as snugly as she slips into her clinging black dress. Blake Hammond is an audience favorite as Uncle Fester, "a fat, bald person of no specific sexuality," whose love for the moon leads to a most enchanting song. And Pippa Pearthree is rollicking as the pithy, aphorism-spouting Grandma.
As family patriarch Gomez, Douglas Sills is tasked with stepping into a role that was tailored to fit Nathan Lane. But you don't hear Lane in Sills; instead, his Gomez is channeled through the thick, velvety Latin rhythms of former MGM film star Fernando Lamas. Every time Gomez began to swirl his fencing foil, I was reminded of Sills' bravura star turn on Broadway in The Scarlet Pimpernel. What we get here is — if of necessity less flamboyant — infused with the same brio. Any time one gets to see Douglas Sills live onstage, it is a treat.
If Act Two seems to drag out longer than needed, nevertheless the entire evening charms with a sweet bonhomie. The Addams crew may view the world more darkly than do most of us, but they are not mean-spirited or overly crass. The show's bluff-and-bluster owes more to the 1950s TV series The Honeymooners than to Mel Brooks. Despite their family crises, Gomez, Morticia and their entire macabre clan seemed to be having a thoroughly good time. And so, almost to my surprise, did I.