Musicals get a bad rep. It’s as if breaking into song has to equate with jazz hands and snappy songs about Oklahoma. But for decades musicals have tackled dark subject matters and made the macabre their playground. Take Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Just before the second act, Todd and Mrs. Lovett sing a pun-filled cannibalistic ditty called “A Little Priest,” about murdering patrons and serving them up as delicious pies.
There’s The Rocky Horror Show and Little Shop of Horrors — even classics like The Phantom of the Opera. It’s clear that musical theater loves the weird and twisted. So when The Addams Family was set to hit the stage, with source material that is creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky, it had potential for greatness. Yet, the final project came up short.
The Addams Family musical, now playing at BDT Stage through Feb. 27, tells the story of Wednesday “Princess of Darkness” Addams meeting a boy and — brace yourself for the plot twist — he’s normal! As their families come together for dinner, Wednesday begs her odd family to be normal for once.
“Please, can’t we be an average family?” she sings. “One normal night, that’s all I want. That’s all I need from you!”
But, of course, the Addamses are far from ordinary, and asking them to tone down their morbid flair is the main downfall of the show. The musical, written by Andrew Lippa in 2010, doesn’t utilize the essence of the Addamses, but instead presents a boring, lazy interpretation that lacks the clever wit that the Addams Family is known for.
The story is unoriginal and flabby with unremarkable songs. And it is also weighed down by the addition of unnecessary characters, like the peculiar chorus of dead family ghosts that seem to be on stage only to add background vocals, beef up choreography and change set pieces. Worst of all, they watered down all the classic characters into one-dimensional, afterschool-special stereotypes: Gomez the goofy, groveling husband; Morticia the nagging wife; and Wednesday the whiney daughter.
The treatment of Wednesday’s character was particularly egregious. Wednesday’s strengths came from her aversion to normalcy and her morose outlook. But instead of questioning what it would look like if that kind of girl fell in love, the musical creators squeezed out her personality and turned her into a puppy-dog-loving, unicorn-singing-about shell of what she was. Suggesting that love and happiness instantly changes your personality is silly and untrue — e.g., Morticia and Gomez.
The show is best when it’s playful, and there are some fleeting moments of fun. At the start of the show we see a silly gag with Lurch and Thing, and then the curtain pulls back to present a non-smiling Addams family standing stiff as fog rolls in. Cousin It and his son What make brief, humorous appearances, and Grandma’s floating bosom serves for a laugh. The musical high point of the night is the old timey tune “Just Around the Corner.”
As Morticia laments about her family drama she sings optimistically, “But I can’t let these latest problems rob me of my bliss, for when I’m scared of true disaster, I remember this: Death is just around the corner, waiting patiently to strike.”
The song sits in the center of the Venn diagram of abnormal Addams’ humor and musical theater, a feat far from impossible, but one in which The Addams Family musical consistently fails.
However, the cast and crew of BDT Stage manage to shine through the flabby source material. Combined with a high production value, the show serves up a few highlights worth noting.
The strongest performances of the show come from Alicia King as Morticia, Joanie Brosseau as Alice Beineke and Sarah Grover as Wednesday. Grover’s talent and spunk infuses the stage with energy, and King’s velvety voice is a pleasure in every song she sings. The surprise breakthrough moment comes from Brosseau, who brings down the house with her powerful rendition of “Waiting,” a song reminiscing on a marriage that’s lost its spark.
Fester, played by the always-fabulous Wayne Kennedy, is a delight. Over his 23 years with BDT Stage, Kennedy continuously brings charm to his characters, whether the star of the show or appearing in a one-song shot. His portrayal flourishes from subtley, with a flick of his head or a slight crazed smile, Kennedy steals the scene every time.
Along with the great performers, the show features ornate, complex props, costumes and sets, which all come together to create a visually stimulating show. The most striking scene is “The Moon and Me,” where a chorus, donning vintage bathing suits and caps, dance with light up parasols against a night sky. During a musical with many pitfalls, this moment was almost lovely enough to save the whole show.
The Addams Family was a missed opportunity to create a smart and timeless show that amplified its franchise. Next time, take your own advice, Addams Family:
“Move toward the darkness, welcome the unknown,” the cast sings in the final number. “Face your blackest demons, find your weakest bone. Lose your inhibitions. Love what once was vile. Move toward the darkness and smile.”