Theater Review: “The Addams Family” at the Kennedy Center

They’re creepy, kooky, and altogether hokey, but this musical adaptation has its charms nonetheless.
The cast of The Addams Family. Photograph by Jeremy Daniel.
The cast of The Addams Family. Photograph by Jeremy Daniel.

When it comes to families, the Addamses don’t so much put the “fun” in dysfunctional as they remind us that a little diversity
can be a wonderful thing. In
Andrew Lippa,
Marshall Brickman, and
Rick Elice’s musical interpretation of Charles
Addams’s cartoons, currently playing at the Kennedy Center, the macabre
yet loving family
is thrown into turmoil when Wednesday announces she’s no longer
full of woe. She’s in love—with a “normal” kid, whatever that
means—and she wants her clan to clean up their act for one big
family dinner with the Beinekes of Ohio.

This is, of course, a weak premise for a musical, even hammier than 1993’s
The Addams Family Values, which saw Uncle Fester fall
in love with a homicidal, gold-digging nanny (and a blonde, no less).
And the evolution of Wednesday
from a sadistically malevolent ten-year-old to the most
conformist of teenagers is deeply disappointing (particularly since
she now professes an interest in “string quartets and Chia
pets” rather than Twitter defaming and Hunger Gaming like most
girls her age).

And yet there’s something about the Addamses that still charms. In the plot’s most realistic contemporary update,
Douglas Sills’s Gomez is a man caught between a rock and a hard place: his unrelenting wife, Morticia (Sara Gettelfinger), and his equally unshakable daughter (Cortney Wolfson). Sills enhances Gomez’s Latin
affect, making the mustachioed patriarch appear both cocksure and
sweetly naive. Gettelfinger
adopts an alluring Sean Connery lisp to voice the husky and
imposing Morticia, but the quirk is less noticeable than her
costume, which threatens full disclosure during more than one
dance number.

The most endearing character of all is Uncle Fester, a self-described “fat bald man of indeterminate sexuality” played nicely
by
Blake Hammond. In the show’s lone divergence
from its meet-the-parents schtick, Fester confesses that he’s fallen in
love with the moon,
a delightfully nutty moment that leads to a gorgeous puppet
sequence created by Basil Twist. It’s a nice element of magic
in an otherwise predictable story, and it gels well with the
lush purple tones and romantic imagery of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch’s set.

None of Lippa’s songs are particular game
changers, but the production as a whole is enhanced by a chorus of
ghostly
Addams ancestors, who appear occasionally to prop up the dance
numbers. Gettelfinger and Sills are both strong singers and
powerful presences onstage but their dancing, particularly in
act two’s “Tango de Amour,” leaves a little more to be desired.
Mal Beineke (played by understudy
Patrick Oliver Jones on press night) and his wife, Alice (Gaelen Gilliland), a canary-colored hausfrau who talks in Hallmark-esque rhyming couplets, have it a little easier—their dancing is supposed
to be bad.

For a production featuring a song titled “Crazier Than
You,” it’s hard not to long for some more bite behind the battiness,
as well as a Wednesday who’s more Black Widow than Belle. But
the sweet family dynamic and the visual appeal of the kooky
caricatures can still be hard not to smile at. The jokes run
the gamut from hoary to juvenile (it’s worth noting that Gomez’s
ancestors have names like Pico de Gallo and Chimichanga—a form
of stereotyping that played poorly when
Ethan McSweeny tried it at Shakespeare last
year
).

Still, the show’s message—that it’s okay to be weird as long as
you’re in good company—is not to be sneezed at.

The Addams Family
is at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House through July 29.
Tickets ($39 to $115) are available via the KenCen’s
website.

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