Creator: Charles Addams
Book: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice
Music and Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Director: Matthew White
Local cinemas have recently been showing the 2021 animated film The Addams Family 2 which did not meet with universal critical acclaim: The Guardian review suggested that ”there’s an unmistakably rotten smell wafting up from the franchise.” The musical production is considerably more fragrant.
That The Addams Family can be referred to as a franchise is a reminder of how successful the storyline has become. Starting as a newspaper cartoon in the 1930’s, Charles Addams’ macabre inversion of the classic American happy family has launched countless television and film versions. The musical, which started life in Chicago in 2009, has since toured on several continents. It has a sophisticated bloodline, connecting it to the writers of the hit show Jersey Boys, Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman. Meanwhile Andrew Lippa (originally from Leeds), was nominated for a Tony award for his work on the music and lyrics for the show. So the core of the production has a credible pedigree, and a little bit of Yorkshire grit.
The plot is sufficient to provide a platform for the songs, gags and dance numbers that decorate the show like trimmings on a Christmas tree. Daughter of the family, Wednesday Addams, played by Kingsley Morton, has fallen for a “normal” young man, and his very “normal” parents are invited to dinner at the far from “normal” Addams mansion. Only Wednesday’s father, Gomez, played by Cameron Blakely, is entrusted with the news of the burgeoning relationship and his attempts to keep the secret from his wife provides much of the comic momentum. It also gives Blakely the opportunity to present a more complex and conflicted character to the audience.
While some of the family members provide cameos of the characters they portray, much more is demanded of the top tier of the family, Gomez and Morticia. Blakely and Joanne Clifton have an on-stage chemistry which brings an electric atmosphere to their exchanges and a passion to their dance numbers, particularly the show-stopping tango. Clifton, a former Strictly Come Dancing performer, bristles with cool elegance and poise, while Blakely’s flamboyance channels the energy and passion. Both also prove to be very good singers.
The lead actors are ably supported by other members of the family, particularly Scott Paige as Fester, who acts as narrator at key points in the show. Dickon Gough, as the saturnine servant Lurch, is a torpid presence throughout the show, but a scene-stealer when he sings in the final big number Move Towards the Darkness, his rich powerful baritone leading the line.
The juvenile leads fare less well. Kingsley Morton, as Wednesday, has a powerful voice, but some of her songs tempt her to dial it up to 11, when 10 was probably too much. By contrast Matthew Ives, as Lucas Beineke, Wednesday’s boyfriend, is obliged to dial down his vocal contributions, and in the duet Crazier Than You he is completely overwhelmed by his partner (To be fair to Matthew, he was a late stand-in for this role).
Lucas’ parents are also constrained by being comparatively “normal” (and from Ohio), but Kara Lane, as Alice Beineke, has opportunities to step outside the box. Initially, she seems the most Stepford of Stepford Wives, delivering her innane thoughts in trite greeting card rhymes. Later, transformed by too much alcohol and a stray dose of a powerful relaxant, Alice turns into a feisty vamp transfixing the dinner table, and the entire theatre, with the impassioned cri de coeur Waiting.
This is a sophisticated production, and every aspect reflects that. The ingenious set works beautifully, and its flexibility means that scene transitions are seamless, so the whole show flows. The Addams clan are so recognisable, and so distinctive, that make-up, costumes, and hair (or the lack of it) have to be absolutely spot-on; which they are.
This is a show with some weaknesses, and they are so hard-wired that they are likely to remain throughout what will hopefully be a hugely successful tour. But it also has considerable strengths. Ultimately, it is feel-good entertainment with few pretensions to be anything else, but at the tail end of 2021, that feels like a lot on offer.
Runs until 27th November 2021