"Are you unhappy, darling?" "Oh yes, yes! Completely."
This conversational fragment first saw life on a page of The New Yorker as a caption to a cartoon showing Gomez and Morticia sitting by the fireplace. Charles Addams, a cartoon artist for more than a half-century, developed the family of misfits, bad actors, sadists and other anti-social types, gave them his name, saw his one-panel cartoons become a highly successful television series.
And now it's a Broadway musical that's been running for a year and a half, despite reviews whose highest praise was to call it mediocre. However, it's been revamped, partly re-written, songs added, veteran director Jerry Zaks hired to replace the original directing team of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, ran for few weeks last month in New Orleans and opened at the Fox last night, the first show of the grand old theater's 2011-12 season.
While it may be praising with faint damns, or damning with faint praise, and despite having read a lot of scathing reviews, I liked it a lot more than I feared I would. It's still not a great show, but the funny lines worked, thanks to some splendid timing by the cast and some snappy direction. The Addams family includes the parents, Gomez (Douglas Sills) and Morticia (Sara Gettlefinger), 18-year-old daughter Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson), pre-pubescent son Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy), Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond), Grandma (Pippa Pearthree) and Lurch the Butler (Tom Corbeil).
They enter in a graveyard, surrounded by ghosts of their ancestors in a variety of period costumes. That's also the chorus, of course (or of chorus), and they provide a great deal of fun with Sergio Trujillo's choreography.
But once we meet them, the evening turns into a standard musical comedy love story with a middle-American family (insert New York put-down jokes) and their son, Lucas (Brian Justin Crum) falling for Wednesday. She invites him and his parents Mal (Martin Vidnovic) and Alice (Crista Moore) for dinner (no, there are no malice jokes), telling her family to act like normal people, which plays out like a similar dinner party in "You Can't Take It With You."
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice wrote the original book; either they or Zaks tossed in all sorts of stuff they adapted from others, like an exit that comes from "The Sound of Music," a Peter Lorre accent here and there, a wig for Uncle Fester that gives him a John Madden hair-do, and later, the evening's biggest laugh. It's set up for two scenes. First, Fester sings "The Moon and Me," expressing his love. Then he comes back on stage in a primitive space suit, with a rocket attached to his back. Alice sets him up by asking where he's going and, after the proper pause, he utters Jackie Gleason's famous, "To the moon, Alice!" and promptly stops the show. Hammond is a sheer delight from start to finish. Sills is excellent as Gomez and although his relationship with his daughter turns over-sentimental, it touches a chord in all of us who have children, and especially daughters. Gettelfinger shows all the proper attitude, and while her costume threatened a continual malfunction, she managed to defy gravity.
Despite its problems, "The Addams Family" brought fun and entertainment to the Fox, and that's what theater is all about.
The Addams Family Musical opened at the Fox last night and will run through Oct. 9