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 February 17, 2012

The Addams Family on Tour: Where Did They Go Right?

My hat is off to Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice, Andrew Lippa and Jerry Zaks. When their production of The Addams Family received mediocre reviews and failed to get a Best Musical Tony nomination in 2010, they could have sniffed, “Well, what do the nominators know?” or “Hey, theatergoers are certainly liking what we’re giving them, aren’t they?” They would have ultimately had a point, for only 120 new musicals in Broadway history have ever run longer than The Addams Family’s 722 performances.

Thus, when the time came for a national tour, the foursome could have sat pat and simply sent out a mirror image of the show. Chances are that the brand name alone would have delivered good business on the road.

But instead, the four creators took a long, hard look at what they’d written – and what they might have wrought. As a result, the current tour, which I caught in Boston last week, shows a much smarter and even – yes -- a more emotionally satisfying show. Who would have thought that the 20-month run at the Lunt-Fontanne would wind up as a tryout?

First, Brickman and Elice scrapped a good deal of their plot. It’s still the story of Wednesday’s wanting to marry an outsider, one straight arrow Lucas Beineke. But originally, Wednesday’s choosing a so-called “normal” kid caused her parents Gomez and Morticia to sing “Where Did We Go Wrong?” They weren’t in favor of the marriage -- not as staunchly, to be sure, as straighter arrows Mal and Alice Beineke would be -- but still, they disapproved.

Yes, the-outsider-joins-the-family plot is the same one used in La Cage aux Folles. But it worked in the Fierstein-Herman hit because Georges and Albin said “Where did we go wrong?” as a quick quip and joke – and then, out of love for their lad, they endeavored to help him get what he wanted. Gomez and Morticia didn’t.

That was a problem. We all feel that everyone has the right to love whomever he or she wants to love, and that parents should have no say in the matter. More than 100 years ago, even Tevye and Golde came to this conclusion, so we could never get behind Gomez and Morticia.

Apparently the creators finally realized that. They’ve dropped “Where Did We Go Wrong?” which also means that Lippa’s most unfortunate and inaccurate lyric has been mercifully eliminated: Gomez had offered as evidence that he’d expertly taught Wednesday about the world of the macabre by taking her to Schindler’s List. Not only was that wrong because that film is ultimately inspirational, but also because the Holocaust should be off-limits as a source of humor in a commercial Broadway musical. (You’re saying that The Producers did it? Not quite. Notice there’s not one Holocaust reference in “Springtime for Hitler.”)

So now Wednesday has become Tzeitel and Gomez Tevye. She tells him – but not her mother – that she’s agreed to marry Lucas. Wednesday feels that her mother would be less understanding than he. She begs him to take her side. “Can you do this one thing for me?” she implores, wanting to delay telling her mother for as long as she can.

Thus, the conflict has switched to Gomez’ keeping a secret from Morticia, which he’s never done through their long marriage. “Gomez would never keep a secret from me,” Morticia later tells Alice. “Secrets are the enemy,” she insists.

Gomez isn’t comfortable keeping one from her, either, as he sings in “Trapped,” one of Lippa’s four new songs that have replaced four old ones. “Like theater-in-the-round, I’m trapped,” Gomez sings. “Should I gripe, should I groan ... pass a stone?”

Ultimately, however, he’s just another father who’ll do anything for his Daddy’s Little Girl. That’s a situation to which many a father in the audience can and will relate.

Much of the script works, thanks to old and new elements. Lucas tells Gomez of his ambition to become a medical examiner because he wants to look inside bodies. For a second, Gomez does nothing, and then he enthusiastically hugs the kid and holds him for dear life. He’s so grateful to have found a kindred spirit.

Late in the show, after Wednesday again pours out her heart to Gomez about her love for Lucas, the lad suddenly appears. She asks, “How long have you been standing in the shadows?” She means it literally, but Lucas takes it as a metaphor: “All of my life,” he answers. Gomez prefers to take it literally, too, but from his frame of reference, he must purr an admiring, “Ni-i-ice.”

There’s a nice joke when the Bienekes are having a mild spat. Mal turns around and we see that he has an enormous tarantula covering his entire back. When Alice sees it, she is about to tell him … and then, out of spite, decides not to. Say what you will about Gomez and Morticia, but they have the better marriage.

What also has been ameliorated – but not totally lost – is Gomez’ inadvertently insulting Morticia by mentioning how she’s aged. No, given that Morticia will soon sing “(Death is) Just around the Corner,” her skewered view of aging should have her squeal with delight and view Gomez’ remark as a lovely compliment.

Now that I’ve been with three audiences that have heard this song – none of which has responded with as much of a chuckle – I say that the creators should have realize that the mention of impending death doesn’t amuse many theatergoers who see themselves as not that far away from it. Perhaps the subject of the song should have been Morticia’s expressing her delight at discovering her first age spot on her hand or varicose vein on her leg.

Frankly, the four creators still haven’t maintained a consistent topsy-turvy tone for the Addamses. Yes, they often remind us of their different view of life: Gomez fondly remembers when Wednesday ate her first worm. Morticia wants to visit Paris – to see its sewers. While they’re there, they’ll stay at the Hotel Merde. Those are all to the good.

But during the opening, when Gomez calls for the family’s ancestors to return from their graves, the parade of people includes many ordinary-looking folk: a soldier, a bride, et al. Why aren’t the ancestors as eerily drawn as Morticia, Uncle Fester and Grandma?

When Gomez calls for everyone to dance, he orders the Bunny Hop and Twist. Why didn’t choreographer Sergio Trujillo come up with dances that owed nothing to “ordinary” culture, of which the Addamses would either have no knowledge or interest? The dances should have had such names as The Macabre and The Grisly.

Similarly, at one point when Uncle Fester, Grandma and Pugsley leave the room, they sing the three “Goodbyes” note-for-note a la “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music. (If you think that’s not what’s on the creators’ mind, be apprised that the music credits at the back of the program acknowledge the R&H hit.) Does this seem to be the type of song the Addams would enjoy or even know? Even if they sat down to watch the annual broadcast, they surely wouldn’t stay with this sweet film long enough to become acquainted with this song.

When Wednesday lets us know that “It may seem old-fashioned, but I want their blessing” of her marriage, she should be saying, “I want their curse.” When she later appears in a yellow and black outfit, Gomez still snarls, as he did on Broadway, “You look like a crime scene.” Why doesn’t he say it with a voice filled with admiration? An Addams would.

Some of the creators’ more bizarre decisions are, alas, still in place. Mrs. Bieneke still rhymes when she feels ill-at-ease. Worse, Uncle Fester is still in love with the moon. Is this all-too-silly plot device simply used just to get a good joke at the end of the show? Alice asks Fester where he’s going with that rocket attached to his back, and he replies, “To the moon, Alice” -- in a not-so-subtle homage to Ralph Kramden’s famous and oft-repeated threat to his wife.

Fine, but one joke should have been dropped. Alice asks, “Do you have a little girls’ room?” and Gomez answers, “We did, but we let them go.” In an age of far too many child abductions that result in tragedy, the line seems to cross the line into terrible taste territory. But at least Gomez ameliorates it by suddenly laughing wildly and inelegantly snorting. He was only joking, you see.

The creators have also found room for the hoariest joke of them all: when Morticia complains about Grandma and refers to her as “your mother,” Gomez responds, “MY mother? I thought she was YOUR mother.” Maybe this gag has been away for some time, for the audience greeted it as if it had been minted yesterday.

Some elements don’t make sense on a basic level. We still have the scene where Lucas must prove his love by standing in front of a tree with an apple on his head, while Wednesday plays William Tell and splits it in two with a crossbow. Then Mal walks in with Gomez, and we learn that they’ve surreptitiously witnessed the entire encounter. Now that Mal’s seen Lucas’ willingness to be killed, he’s convinced that Wednesday is the bride for his son. But would a father just stand by and let his kid be subject to Wednesday’s arrow?

Wednesday and Lucas still sing that each is “Crazier Than You,” but now Mal and Alice get to sing their own version of it, too. While the show establishes that Mal was once a Grateful Dead T-shirt wearer, the type of old-fogey dance steps he displays does not jell with someone whose musical frame of reference was once Jerry Garcia.

So while the four creators have made some terrific improvements, they’ve still overlooked too many necessities.

Douglas Sills, who wielded an epee in The Scarlet Pimpernel, is once again swordfighting (although Lurch offers little ostensible competition). He’s got a masculine dynamism that helps Gomez’ incessantly-mentioned lust for Morticia, and delivers a consistently terrific performance.

Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia, Crista Moore as Alice and Martin Vidnovic as Mal? Damn if I know: all three were out at the matinee I attended. Rebecca Riker, Christy Morton and Brad Nacht were all splendid in their stead. Still, I hope that laziness was not responsible for the three absences, and that the regular performers were genuinely ill.

Hmmm, looking over that last statement makes me wonder. Given that I’m wishing sickness on people, do I have a little Addams Family in me, too?

                                                                                                                                                — Peter Filichia



You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at His book Broadway Musical MVPs 1960-2010: The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons is now available at

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