The Addams Family – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice

Music and Lyrics: Andrew Lippa

Director: Matthew White

Charles Addams, a young cartoonist in his mid 20s, can’t have realised where his first Addams Family cartoon, published in The New Yorker in 1938, would lead. Over the next 50 years until his death in 1988, he continued producing cartoons while the family spawned several TV and film adaptations, keeping the franchise alive. In 2007, it was announced that a musical inspired by his drawings was to be produced on Broadway where it ran for nearly two years. Subsequent tours saw the musical heavily amended, and it is this version that is currently touring the UK.

But why has this family caught the imagination so much? The well-known four-note earworm theme certainly helps, but also, while The Addams Family is in some ways the antithesis of the idealised American family with their gothic appearance and ghoulish delight in the macabre, they still cleave together in love and mutual acceptance. And it is this shared support that gets them through life.

In the musical, Wednesday Addams has somehow met and fallen in love with preppy Lucas, only son of Mal and Alice Beineke. On the surface, the Beinekes are a typical, dare we say normal, American family. Today is the big day, the Beinekes are to visit the Addams family in their broken-down mansion for the first time – and Wednesday and Lucas are to declare their love and intention to marry. The happy couple each implores their respective family for one normal night and Wednesday confides in her father, Gomez, to try and get his support when they make their announcement later – an action that causes him distress as he’s never lied to his wife, Morticia, before. During the evening, truths are uncovered and relationships seem to be stressed beyond repair. Can Wednesday and Lucas have their happy ending? Can anyone?

On the surface, this is a supremely well-done comedy. The members of the cast all exhibit great comic timing and there are several laugh-out-loud moments. The songs are well-judged, conveying mood well as each family, and each family member, develops during the show. But what makes it work are the relationships between the characters: there’s a real passionate and enduring love between Gomez and Morticia (their wedding vows include a promise to tango three times a week), for example; and there are some big themes – how can Mal and Alice recapture the spark having fallen into a rut? It’s all done with such affection that one can’t help but cheer the characters on their journeys of self-knowledge and acceptance.

At the centre are Gomez and Morticia. Cameron Blakely brings us the besotted Gomez and we see his conflict in his whole body when Wednesday asks him to keep her secret, just until dinner. His song, Happy/Sad is really quite beautiful. Joanne Clifton as Morticia sashays around the stage with an air of barely controlled menace. One can see her fear that her understanding of family life might be about to be upturned. The biggest journey is perhaps that of Mal and Alice, played by Sean Kingsley and Kara Lane. At the beginning they are somewhat stitched up – Alice’s response to stress is to start talking in rhyme. But following events at dinner, Lane brings us a revitalised, almost wanton, Alice, while Kingsley brings us Mal’s initial confusion, followed by a realisation of what their lives have become. Kingsley Morton is Wednesday, apparently full of sass but with vulnerability underneath as she struggles to come to terms with her own feelings and her love for both family and Lucas. Scott Paige is delightfully off-the-wall as Fester. Part narrator, he brings a naïve childlike feel to the role and one firmly believes in his deeply felt love for the moon in his sweet song, The Moon and Me.

The whole takes place against Diego Pitarch’s monochrome set supported by lighting from Ben Cracknell, supporting the melodramatic mood well. Not quite everything works, though. The characters of Mal and Lucas are less well-developed than those of the Addams clan and the sight gags involving Thing, the disembodied hand, don’t really land.

Overall, The Addams Family is a joyous celebration of true family values. Billed as a comedy, there are poignant moments too and a reaffirmation of love and acceptance. It’s well worth catching on tour.

Runs until 22 January 2022 and touring

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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