Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Addams Family, The Q

For audiences of my generation, the definitive Addams family is always going to be the one from the two 1990s movies directed by Barry Sonnenfeld with Raul Julia, Anjelica Houston, Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci. These took the sitcom setup from the 60s and pushed them into delirious perfection - Gomez and Morticia's relationship with hefty S&M overtones, Wednesday's mordant nature, Fester's joire de vivre ...

Due to the vagaries of international copyright law, the musical isn't based on the film  or the sitcom, it's officially based on the original Charles Addams cartoons. Which may be why it feels slightly tonally off. While these are larger than life figures who should, naturally, sing, there's a really basic problem at the centre of the plot, which is that it's both overly familiar and the wrong plot for these characters. The "child introduces their radical parents to their love interest's conservative parents" plot was reasonably old-hat when "La Cage Aux Folles" did it 30 years ago (the gay angle was the only twist), and it's older now, with the show introducing a truth-telling potion into the mix (again, personality-altering concoctions were considered old hat by Arthur Sullivan when W.S. Gilbert proposed it as a plot in the mid 1880s). And of all members of the family to centre this plot on, why Wednesday? Reducing her to a simple girl-pining-for-a-boy is to screw up a basic element of her personality, and it leaves the show at a big disadvantage.

It's not all bad news. While the script by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman is, to my mind, both wrong and conventional at a plot level, at an individual joke-level the material has a reasonable amount of wit. The songs by Andrew Lippa never really surpass the original theme tune (here introduced-oh-so-briefly at the beginning of the show then brought back for the curtain calls, and never with the iconic lyrics), but again there are a couple of good jokes in there, and particularly the material for Uncle Fester has a disarming sweetness.

The cast do sterling work with the material they have. Gordon Nicholson has bravado and charisma to spare as Gomez, Lainie Hart brings languid stylish sexiness and a killer singing voice that's been under wraps for way too long as Morticia. Tim Stiles is endearingly weird as Fester, Rachael Thornton is stuck playing the Wednesday that's in the script, but suggests she could bring off a much better-written character by getting massive laughs from the sight of her in a bright yellow dress. Callum Doherty's Pugsley is disconcerting in several ways - he's the only character whose intensity has been turned WAY up from the original material, and from the youngest member of the cast, that feels wildly off. Barbara Denham's Grandma is, again, misconceived at a plot level (instead of being a whimsical potions mistress she's somehow a drug pusher?) but Denham almost pulls it off with a blithe manner. As the visitors, Liam Dowling as the son has no written personality and doesn't add much to that, Joseph McGrail-Bateup has the unenviable job of being the fun-crushing character of the evening (although he does produce one truly epic spit-take), and Deanna Gibbs has a goofy charm as Alice. Nathan Rutups is a great looming presence with various grunts and growls as Lurch.

Costumes by Christine Pawlicki and Barbara Denham are a gorgeous bunch of outfits that do a lot to bring the show whatever life it can have, and Emily Geyer's makeup design, particularly on the chorus-of-ancestors, is top notch. Matthew Webster's orchestra is a bit muddled during the overture but settles down to providing decent support.

So this is wildly inessential material, but with some performances that make this quite watchable anyway.

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