The 1970s was the golden-age of after-school television, with camps firmly divided between opposing loyalties.
In the contest between “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters,” the contest was often too close to call. Both hinged on the clash between matters presumed “normal,” on the one hand, and manners macabre or even morbid. Both ended with the traditional outside intruder either running off in terror, or flustered and frustrated at the dark ways of either Morticia and Gomez or Lily and Herman Munster.
I fell in “The Munsters” camp, if only because Eddie Munster drove a killer motorcycle and Herman was decidedly more slapstick than Gomez. “The Addams Family,” meanwhile, was a show you relied on the baby sitter to decode. Its humor was more ironic, droll and even sophisticated. In the long run, there’s no question that Gomez, Morticia, Pugsley, Wednesday, Lurch, Uncle Fester and the rest of the lot gained the upper hand.
“The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy” updates the side-winding and ofttimes side-splitting humor of the original Charles Addams’ cartoons on which the screen and television franchise is based, then adds family drama on top of its proceedings. In fact, with Wednesday planning nuptials to a “normal” person and the Addams clan acting in dissaray, the emphasis is decidedly on “Family.”
So Andrew Lippa’s song craft, with story by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, retains the time-tested tradition of square outsiders imposing on the Addams’ macabre ways. But this time the action’s inside a mansion located in the wilds of New York City’s Central Park, where Wednesday first met square boyfriend Lucas after her target practice with a crossbow.
Knocking matters further off kilter are Lucas’ parents, Mal and Alice. With the love-struck couple determined to make the relationship work, it’s up to everyone else to fall in line. What Wednesday’s and Lucas’ romance brings instead is cracks in the foundation between Morticia and Gomez, Mal and Alice, plus some odd lunar overtures of love from Uncle Fester.
If this sounds like an odd pairing between understated humor and over-the-top song, it is. Except for a few instances, the music never strays far from traditional Broadway norms. It seems a weakness for a story out to champion the imaginative life of misfits, but any mild disappointment vanishes easily by the end of the first act. This is a musical more about snuggling into life’s darker corners with flair and wit rather than cramping it with aesthetic exercises.
The stand-outs are many, including a luminous and lovely ballet in the night sky between Uncle Fester and a milk-white moon. The bust-out number of “Waiting” comes as a surprise, after Alice partakes of a potion-filled chalice Pugsley, jealous of his sister’s betrothed, meant for Wednesday.
Douglas Sills plays a fiery, full-blooded Gomez, full of Latin notes that hit every target. Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia matches him gamely, even if her character isn’t half as interesting when it comes to family matters. The plot is mostly a father-daughter affair between Gomez and Wednesday, and a marvelous one at that.
For theatergoers out for stage and scenic eye candy, the show’s set may offers gauzy and gaudy sights cast in warm purples and stunning dark blues that fit the story-line to a tee.
“The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy” can’t sustain the energy of traditional musicals, but that’s mostly because, like the clan it chronicles, it never aspires to. It’s the freak show inside every purported “normal” family, and it’s cute as a black spider button, every drop as delicious as a cyanide cocktail.
‘The Addams Family’
When • Through Sunday, Nov. 18; Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Info • $30-$65 at 801-355-2787 or arttix.org.
More info • Visit www.theaddamsfamilymusicaltour.com