'The Addams Family' on Broadway: What did the critics think?
When producers announced last year that Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth were going to star in a new stage adaptation of "The Addams Family," theater audiences applauded the dream casting and producers geared themselves for a box-office bonanza.
What a difference a year makes.
On Thursday, "The Addams Family" finally limped onto Broadway following a tryout run in Chicago that was plagued with rumors of cast misery, rewrites and other forms of backstage drama. Jerry Zaks was reportedly called in to salvage the production, which was initially staged by experimental theater artists Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch.
Based on the Charles Addams cartoons that ran in The New Yorker (and not the TV series or the two feature films), the musical stars Lane and Neuwirth as Gomes and Morticia, the heads of the macabre Addams household. Rounding out the cast are Jackie Hoffman as Grandma, Zachary James as Lurch and Kevin Chamberlin as Uncle Fester.
Despite negative word of mouth, "The Addams Family" appears to be an audience hit so far, with robust ticket sales reported for preview performances at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theater.
The critics, however, are another matter entirely.
Ben Brantley The New York Times offered one of the most savage assessments of the musical, calling it a "tepid goulash of vaudeville song-and-dance routines, Borscht Belt jokes, stingless sitcom zingers and homey romantic plotlines that were mossy in the age of 'Father Knows Best.'"
The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck wrote that "one gets the feeling from 'The Addams Family' that artistic inspiration pretty much ended with the pitch meeting" and that the entire effort "seems an opportunity missed, lacking the comic inspiration that would have made it more than just a family alternative to 'Wicked.'"
Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press wrote: "If you want to know why musical comedy is such a difficult art form to master, a prime example is now on display at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre where 'The Addams Family' has fitfully burst into story and song." He offered praise for Lane, whom he describes as having "an innate GPS for finding a laugh."
USA Today's Elysa Gardner complained that neither Lane nor Neuwirth "is given much to work with here" and that the musical's "stabs at crass hilarity also seem ill at ease with the hokey plot."
John Simon of Bloomberg offered a dissenting opinion, giving it a rating of four stars. He offered praise for the cast, especially Lane and Neuwirth, and described the production as "a menage a trois of the ghastly, the ghostly and the side-splitting."
-- David Ng
Photo: a scene from "The Addams Family" on Broadway. Credit: Joan Marcus