By Richard Ades
The musical comedy now unfolding at the Palace is called The Addams Family, but it bears only a superficial resemblance to its macabre source material.
Fans of Charles Addams’s New Yorker cartoons or the 1960s TV series will recognize the basic characters. They look much as they did on TV and in subsequent movies, except that daughter Wednesday (Jennifer Fogarty) has grown into a romance-minded young woman. Book authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) have even retained touches of the old Addams quirkiness, such as the family’s fondness for torture devices and graveyards.
Beneath these surface aberrations, though, these stage Addamses are surprisingly normal.
The thin plot hinges on Wednesday’s plan to introduce Ohio-bred boyfriend Lucas Beineke (Bryan Welnicki) to the family by inviting him and his parents (Mark Poppleton and Blair Anderson) to dinner. Confiding in her father, Gomez (Jesse Sharp), Wednesday reveals that she and Lucas have already agreed to marry, but she asks Gomez not to tell her mother, Morticia (KeLeen Snowgren). Her fear is that Morticia will try to sabotage the relationship if she learns of the engagement before she’s gotten to know the Beinekes.
Gomez protests that he’s never lied to his wife, but he reluctantly agrees to keep the secret from Morticia until that night’s dinner party. And on that brief bit of deception rests the entire storyline.
Musicals probably have been built on slimmer ideas, though I can’t think of any offhand. But the oddest thing about The Addams Family is how conventional the characters are beneath their gothic exteriors.
Gomez is like any devoted husband and father who’s trying to keep peace in the household. Wednesday is like any embarrassed teenager who thinks her family is weird (except that her family really is weird). Her brother, Pugsley (Connor Barth), may be tortured by his big sister literally rather than figuratively, but he loves her just the same.
Perhaps the most Addams-like of the characters are the herb-gathering Grandma (Amanda Bruton) and grunting butler, Lurch (Ryan Jacob Wood). The least Addams-like is Uncle Fester (Shaun Rice), who has metamorphosed from an anti-social, blunderbuss-brandishing curmudgeon into a romantic who enlists the souls of his dead ancestors in the cause of promoting Wednesday and Lucas’s love.
The result of all the changes made to the original characters—and of the subsequent changes made in response to the show’s mixed success on Broadway in 2010-11—is a warmhearted, rather conventional musical that’s designed to appeal to everyone but hardcore Addams fans.
Its pluses include Andrew Lippa’s songs, which are sometimes pretty (Wednesday and Pugsley’s Pulled) and sometimes catchy (the hummable Full Disclosure). The six-piece band is synthesizer-dominated and sounds it, but the players’ voices range from serviceable to great. Fogarty (Wednesday) and Anderson (Alice) are especially strong.
Working under Jerry Zaks’s direction, the cast is as funny as the material allows it to be. Jonathan Ritter’s choreography is especially enjoyable when it includes both living and non-living participants, as it does in Act 2’s Tango de Amor. The set and costumes (designed by original directors Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott, with later set tweaks by James Kronzer) are appropriately gothic.
Amid all the singing and dancing, The Addams Family seeks to purvey the message that you have to be true to yourself. Considering the liberties it takes with its creepy characters, some might see that as a bit ironic.
Broadway in Columbus and CAPA will present The Addams Family through April 13 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad St. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $28-$78. 614-469-0939, 1-800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com.