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Surprise! To fix “The Addams Family” musical get rid of Nathan Lane (review – tour – Wharton Center, East Lansing) February 4, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals.
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When I originally reviewed The Addams Family musical, I was among the minority that enjoyed it a lot. Now on tour it’s a much better show, and its not just because the script has been reworked.

The tour, currently passing through East Lansing at the Wharton Center, is significantly different from the show seen in pre-Broadway Chicago, and from a design standpoint very different from the Broadway Rubik’s Cube set that assembled and re-assembled itself in fulll view of the audience. It’s passable, but not as good design-wise.

But from an acting point of view its stunningly different, and who would have thought that getting rid of Nathan Lane would make such a huge difference — but it does. Douglas Sills makes for a superb Gomez, while Sara Gettelfinger holds her own as Morticia. The rest of the tour cast is excellent, and its a virtual who’s who of University of Michigan musical theater graduates.

I’m not sure why Broadway never warmed to the musical (although it did run 725 performances and 34 previews despite generally lackluster reviews). It’s funny, it’s tuneful, and the characters are outrageous. There’s a funny book (even if it is a direct rip-off of La Cage aux Folles), and plenty of topical references to keep you on your toes, and it’s all fun. Clearly, Broadway is not currently in the mood for fun — but audiences sure are, as witnessed at both performances I have see.

But, wow — let me get back to Douglas Sills — where Nathan Lane dropped lines, dropped his accent throughout the show, and generally mugged-it-up, Doug has a natural humor; a great voice; and no need to mug — the part plays itself, and he makes the most of his lithe body and quick facial expressions to change the character completely from what Lane brought (did not bring) to the part. There is also chemistry between he and Sara as Morticia, something that Lane never achieved with Bebe Neuwirth. Sills performance completely changes the entire feeling of the show, and the cast responds remarkably.

Are there problems — well, yeah. Besides the aforementioned dumbing-down of the set, there is the ongoing problem of an ensemble chorus that doesn’t do a heck of a lot but hover around in the background as ghosts. Nothing has been changed more from the original Chicago production than the use of the Ensemble, and I am not sure it is any type of improvement. A sequence in which they hide behind cutout trees is just embarrassing.

But those who have not seen The Addams Family will enjoy the show – all the small things that make it such a fun night out are still there (including the curtain tassel that falls off the act curtain and runs away). You could do a lot worse than to spend a few hours with this hilarious family.

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