Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no dramatic tension in The Addams Family. To the contrary, you’ll spend several breathless minutes, during one particular tango, wondering whether one or more of Morticia’s signal assets will emerge even further from her daringly low-cut gown.
Everything else you may have heard, however, is quite true: A spectacular lack of narrative imagination, an enervatingly insipid collection of tunes, and a hugely cynical reliance on what audiences already know about the Addams add up to one of the most misbegotten major Broadway musicals in years. I’d sooner have sat through Bonnie and Clyde.
The story, such as it is: Wee morbid Wednesday, who’s all grown up now, has met a boy, and though her little brother Pugsley worries she won’t want to torture him recreationally once she’s taken the plunge, their live-wire Uncle Fester and a graveyard full of family ghosts are determined to do their best to help smooth the way to the altar.
There are just a few hurdles: The fellow in question comes from a family of “normals”—he’s moved to Manhattan from the Midwest, even!—and at the urging of the skittish Wednesday, the ordinarily devoted patriarch Gomez is keeping Mama Morticia in the dark about the budding romance. With Wednesday’s beloved and his tourist parents arriving imminently for a get-acquainted dinner, Our Sulky Heroine just wants everyone to act normal for a night. Whatever could go wrong?
Well, we could spend needless stage time on another of those tangos, which insists on reminding us at length of something that’s been well established in book scenes: that Morticia and Gomez never keep a thing from one another, and that she will be icily injured should this little secret-engagement business come to light. One supposes that either the writers wanted to underline what little is at stake—or that they just realized how desperately bored the audience would be at that point and decided to wedge in another dance number.
Or Pugsley could waylay the truth potion Grandmama Addams has cooked up to free Wednesday from her worries and serve it to the boyfriend’s mom—thus loosening up her corset to the point that she’ll be table-surfing by the end of her number, whose title…is something I frankly cannot recall.
But then that’s most of the show, which, had I paid for my seats in the hopes of even a slender summer entertainment, I would resent even more thoroughly than I do. Let it be said that there are a few laughs to be had—mostly reflexive, relieved chuckles of recognition when Cousin It or Thing make their brief appearances—and that the cast is as professional as all get-out. Would that the material they’re flailing their way gamely through didn’t seem so very amateur-hour.