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.