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Columnist
'Addams Family' snappy but not flawless
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Columnist

The star power of leads Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth propels "The Addams Family," the new musical by composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa and writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice inspired by the cartoons of artist/illustrator Charles Addams.

 

Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane play the deliciously macabre Morticia and Gomez Addams in the world premiere of new musical "The Addams Family," running through Jan. 10 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, Chicago.

 

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Published: 12/11/2009 12:00 AM | Updated: 12/12/2009 4:41 PM

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Nathan Lane is having the time of his professional life.

At least it appeared that way at Wednesday's world premiere of "The Addams Family," the big-budget, Broadway-bound musical starring the ever-engaging Lane as patriarch Gomez Addams and Bebe Neuwirth as his beloved Morticia.

Lane slips into the role of the endearing eccentric as easily as Gomez might slip into a silk smoking jacket, and wears it as well as the lissome Neuwirth wears Morticia's neckline-plunging, body-hugging gown. His droll, impeccably timed performance adds significantly to the star power of the cast which features Broadway veterans Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello and the terrific Krysta Rodriguez, in a breakout performance as the aggressively dour Wednesday, portrayed here as a fiercely spirited 18-year-old.

Yet all of that considerable talent can't entirely make up for some of musical's shortcomings, including flimsy characters and a surfeit of subplots, which should be addressed for the musical to live up to its potential. Considering the family's impressive pedigree, a bit of trimming and some tweaking should do the trick.

Rooted in the deliciously macabre drawings by artist/illustrator Charles Addams, the show was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice ("Jersey Boys"), who quote directly from Addams' cartoons. Brickman and Elice know how to craft a quip, but they don't always know when to say when, and the laughs feel forced as a result.

Tipping its hat to the classic George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart comedy "You Can't Take It With You," "The Addams Family" is ostensibly about the introduction of the Addams clan to Wednesday's middle-American, middle-class boyfriend Lucas (Wesley Taylor) and his parents: real estate developer Mal (Mann) and Alice (Carmello).

The culture clash alone provides enough fodder for a musical. But "The Addams Family" gets sidetracked by the midlife crises and troubled marriages of its middle-aged characters. The show devotes too much time to Morticia's inexplicable fear of aging -- hardly credible given Neuwirth's flawless appearance -- and Mal and Alice's disintegrating relationship. Yet that subplot does provide the impressive Carmello with the opportunity to express Alice's despair in "Waiting," a near showstopper that is as touching as it is flamboyant. Still, Brickman and Elice have too many narrative irons in the fire. Focusing on the titular oddballs would solve the problem and streamline the production.

To its credit, the show doesn't ignore the Addams family's TV and film incarnations, so those expecting finger snaps, swordplay and tango dancing won't be disappointed.

What's more, the show boasts a Broadway-ready score by composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa ("The Wild Party") that contains several gems including "Clandango," a rousing celebration of family unity; "Happy/Sad," a lovely ode to fatherly love; the made-for-cabaret "Second Banana," delivered by the charismatic Neuwirth as a Bob Fosse vamp, and the tuneful "Let's Not Talk About Anything Else But Love."

Additionally, "The Addams Family" heralds the Broadway debut of British director/designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, whose keen visual sense is reflected in the lush, grandly gothic set and whose savvy direction balances the show's gleeful ghoulishness with honest affection.

Ultimately, that's what "The Addams Family" is all about, the love family members feel for each other not in spite of, but because of their flaws.

"The Addams Family"

Rating: ★ ★ ½

Location: Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago. (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com

Showtimes: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 10

Running time: About two hours, 30 minutes with intermission

Tickets: $28-$105

Parking: Paid lots nearby

Rating: For teens and older