Arts and Humanities
1:22 pm
Thu October 17, 2013

REVIEW | Whimsy Lightens the Dark in 'The Addams Family' Musical

Shaun Rice as Uncle Fester in the 2013-14 national tour of "The Addams Family."
Shaun Rice as Uncle Fester in the 2013-14 national tour of "The Addams Family."
Credit Carol Rosegg

They’re still creepy and kooky, but in “The Addams Family” musical, you can only snap along to that old theme song during the overture. With new songs and a story sourced not from the 1960s television show or the popular films but Charles Addams’ old New Yorker cartoons, the accomplished creative team behind the Broadway musical crafted a visually-rich, likable comedy by drawing on familiar Addams family character traits, gentle wit and a fun mix of musical styles.

The Broadway in Louisville production of “The Addams Family” opened Tuesday in the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall. Nothing too scary or too racy happens on stage, and the show is both weird and sweet, making it particularly suitable for a family night out.

The Broadway production starring Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane opened in 2010, with a book by Marshall Brickman (“Jersey Boys,” “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall”) and Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys,” “Peter and the Starcatcher”), music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (composer of the new songs for the revamp of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”) and choreography by Sergio Trujillo (“Jersey Boys,” “Memphis”). The book is imbued with Brickman’s humor, self-aware without taking itself too seriously. And Lippa can write an establishing opening number – for my money, one of the most important components of a successful stage musical. “When You’re an Addams” introduces the signature family traits – a love of weirdness and all things dark juxtaposed against a practically Waltons-esque emphasis on family values – with bubbly élan. Trujillo makes handy use of an ensemble of ghostly Addams ancestors who look amazing dancing in monochrome.

The plot is sitcom-light – daughter Wednesday (Jennifer Fogarty) is 19 and dating, and she confides in Gomez (Jesse Sharp) that she and Lucas (Bryan Welnicki), the boy coming over for dinner with his straight-laced Midwestern parents (Mark Poppleton and Blair Anderson), are engaged. Distracted and distraught over being asked to keep a secret from his beloved Morticia (Keleen Snowgren), Gomez feels torn between loyalties, while little brother Pugsley (Connor Barth) fears his sister is growing up and leaving him behind. Uncle Fester (Shaun Rice) leads the ghost ensemble (because you have to have a chorus) who can’t rest until true love prevails. Grandma (Amanda Bruton, in fantastic makeup) mugs. Lurch (Dan Olson), well, lurches.

And true to the situational comedy form, everything works out in the end – Lucas fights for Wednesday, both sets of parents overcome some romantic obstacles and reconnect, Pugsley causes some mischief that’s handily resolved. But that’s not to say that the show’s predictability doesn’t allow for occasional moments of unexpected transcendence. Rice’s big Act Two solo, “The Moon and Me,” is delicately-staged and delightful, featuring puppetry and that signature dose of whimsy that has always kept the Addamses from feeling oppressively dark. Gomez knows he’s won Morticia back over when she agrees to dance with him on the sensual “Tango de Amor.” Fogarty is a particularly strong and charismatic singer, and her love-fraught solo “Pulled” and duet “Crazier Than You” sound like they were written just for her voice. And when silent butler Lurch finally joins the family on the big closing ballad “Move Toward the Darkness,” Olson’s solo is well worth the wait.

The Broadway show won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for outstanding set design, and some of that is due to Basil Twist’s puppetry, which adds another layer of creepy-lite quirk to the mood on stage. The touring production’s visuals, especially for the outside scenes, are lush and darkly romantic.

“The Addams Family” runs through Sunday evening, including matinees on Saturday and Sunday.