Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by L. Walter Stearns
Produced by Mercury Theater
Jaunty Addams Family Fun
The Addams Family, The Musical, had a rocky start in Chicago back in 2009, before I started reviewing. It transferred to Broadway after a significant rewrite, where it was panned by critics, but pleased audiences enough to run for more than 700 performances. The rewritten version has now arrived in Chicago for the first time, where it delighted the audience on the night of the press opening. Though I am familiar with the franchise only through the early 1990s live action movies and honestly found the musical almost totally outside my taste, I think most people looking for a fun, light-hearted musical will enjoy the Mercury Theatre’s technically well-crafted production.
The show begins with the currently living or semi-living members of the family standing in a graveyard, performing a ritual to raise their deceased ancestors going back to the Stone Age. Of course, when you have the ability to do this, death is far less mysterious or frightening. The ritual and opening song, “When You’re an Addams,” demonstrates the main strength of the show, which is Andrew Lippa’s clever rhyming. Uncle Fester (Harter Clingman), our master of ceremonies for the evening, decides to keep the dead Addams around, anticipating a crises in the family.
Sure enough, Wednesday (Dara Cameron), mostly grown up now, has fallen in love with and decided to marry a normal person. Fearing a hostile response from her mother Morticia (Rebecca Prescott), she turns to her father, Gomez (Karl Hamilton) for moral support. This presents Gomez with a conundrum, as he has never withheld anything from Morticia before, and is terrified of acting independently of her or jeopardizing their very intimate relationship. Wednesday’s brother Pugsley (Brennan Dougherty) is jealous and plots to break up her engagement. Meanwhile, Wednesday’s intended, Lucas Beineke (Henry McGinniss), is also worried about his family’s reaction, especially since they are going through some tension of their own. To keep the families cordial, Wednesday demands that the other Addams pretend to be normal, just for the night. It doesn’t work.
Though most of the performers’ singing is passable, all of them fully articulate Lippa’s wit. I particularly enjoyed Prescott’s joyous homage to death at the top of Act II in “Just Around the Corner.” She and Hamilton have a connection that is all the funnier for seeming to be based on real flirtation. A leftover from Nathan Lane’s creation of Gomez’s role is how much of the first act focuses on him, but Hamilton’s swashbuckling charisma make him lovable. Jason Grimm, as the father Mal Beineke, is a sourpuss who got burned out on love at some point due to the responsibilities it created towards his family. McGinniss, as the bespectacled, gangly, curly haired, nasally voiced son, pulls off a surprising transformation during his bonding with Cameron. The chorus of Addams ancestors under Brenda Didier’s choreography and Frances Maggio’s costumes add a delightful visual element to every scene. They were in life a remarkable diverse group of people, and still carry evidence of how they met their bad ends.
There are things in the book I could complain about, like how most of the second act consists of a nobleman with superpowers lecturing a middle-class father on the importance of putting romance before responsibility. Or how much shock humor revolves around old women’s sex lives (the show is not child friendly). But ultimately, none of that really matters as long as you go to the musical in expectation of goofy fun. The audience I saw was in stitches from the moment Lurch (Jeff Diebold) attempted to speak, and laughed uproariously the whole way through. L. Walter Stearns’s direction delivers every macabre joke in this romantic comedy, and the design team made a visual feast. The score is cheesy, but the performers’ cheeriness is infectious.
Reviewed February 5, 2015
For more information, see The Addams Family’s page at Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 North Southport, Chicago. For tickets, call 773-325-1700 or visit www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com. Tickets are $25-65. Plays Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 3:00 pm (through March 1) and 8:00 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm (from March 5 to April 2). Runs through April 5. Running time is two and a half hours with one intermission.