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The Addams Family musical – Chicago (Review) – Funky fun! December 21, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Theatre.
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Before even commencing with a review, let me state three things. 1) I LOVED this new musical and had a great time. 2) You will either love it or find yourself being indifferent to it depending on your level of a) appreciation for great performances, music, and stagecraft, and b) your tolerance for quirky lunacy. 3) The New York critics are going to chew this up and spit it out — they tend to be a humorless bunch, but audiences are going to flock to it and love it.

There are big big names associated with The Addams Family musical. It has a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (UM grad). It is choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, and directed and designed by Phelim McDermott & Julian Crouch.

What, you ask? Who are these people? They are some of the most influential professional musical theatre leaders. Sergio choreographed Jersey Boys, Memphis, and Next to Normal. Marshall co-wrote Annie Hall, Sleeper, Manhattan and slew of other Woody Allen movies. Rick wrote Jersey Boys. Phelim and Julian designed and directed Shockheaded Peter and a slew of other international theatre hits. Andrew wrote The Wild Party, john & jen, and all the new songs for the revisal of Your a Good Man Charlie Brown.  This is a singularly sensational group of creators.

The show stars Bebe Neuwirth, Nathan Lane, Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Kevin Chamberlin, Jackie Hoffman, Zachary james, Krysta Rodriguz, Adam Rieger, Wesley Taylor, and a 16 member ensemble. And they are great.

Nathan Lane plays the part of Nathan Lane as only Nathan Lane can. (He plays Gomez with a manic energy, a faux-Spanish accent that comes, goes, and reappears and comes closest to sounding spanish only in his pronunciation of words like “chorizos”). Bebe Neuwirth is a delectable Morticia, and shines in her “Second Banana” number at the top of the second act. She wears a dress that is hard to imagine how difficult it is to get into every evening. Terrence Mann plays straight-laced Mal Beineke, and Carolee Carmello his uptight wife, Alice (in a star-turning role). Jackie Hoffman is a hilarious Grandma, Krystal Rodriguez a wonderful Wednesday, Kevin Chamberlin as excellent an Uncle Fester as you could find, and Zachary James a simply astounding Lurch.

There isn’t much book to speak of: Wednesday (just turned 18) is in love with straight-laced friend from school Lucas (Wesley Taylor) and  is mortified to find that Morticia insists the two families meet for dinner. What follows is a knock-off of the basic storyline of La Cage aux Folles as the two families mix and mingle in the most peculiar of ways, each learning something from the other in the process.

The music here throughout is terrific, and Andrew has written wonderfully clever lyrics. Hopefully the sound system will be a bit clearer on Broadway than it was at times here. The set is remarkable — a series of walls, staircases, and surprisingly large open spaces that move, change, rearrange, and make up the crazy world that is the Addams household. The lighting is noteworthy – there is some very pretty stagework done here by Natasha Katz and her crew. Makeup, puppetry, costuming and special effects throughout are good.

Make no mistake here — this is a show filled with lunacy and lighthearted fun. The jokes come rapidly, and sometimes too quickly. Many of them fall flat. This is broad comedy, and it’s delivered and performed splendidly by this fine cast. There is much that is instantly familiar to watchers of the tv show and movies, but it does not stick to that formula — rather, it is composed of a series of vignettes, jokes, and scenes based on the cartoons of Charles Addams, and not intended in any way to resemble what is already known. Thing appears momentarily, and so does Cousin Itt, but they aren’t recurring characters.

Uncle Fester flies (twice!); Grandma curses up a storm; Pugsley creates mischief; Wednesday tortures her brother but is also intrigued by the big wide world out there for the taking; and Lurch makes you laugh in every scene he is in.

Does it need some work? A little. I am confident it will be fixed by the New York opening. The lightbulb in Fester’s mouth is great. When the ensemble echos it, it’s just stupid. That needs to be cut. Some of the jokes need to be fixed and just fall flat. Bebe needs to drop her character voice when singing and just sing. Nathan needs to be toned down a bit more, and someone needs to work with him on his Spanish accent, but I’m not sure he’s an actor amenable to a lot of coaching — at either rate, he needs to be reeled in a bit. Some of the ensemble need to be pulled back into the background a bit more and not dance in One while the leads are in One. The show itself never feels too slow, and is a breezy 2 1/2 hours, so it’s just right for an evening of Broadway entertainment. But it does need those jokes to be fixed.

But there are brilliantly creative moments here as well: a tassel falling off the act curtain and running away…Fester flying to the moon…well-staged sword-play, and some great surprises.

In short, I truly loved this musical. I saw it with two seasoned musical theatre fans, and they both loved it too. The Chicago media was split — The Sun Herald gave the show a 4-star rave. The Tribune a 2-star average rating. The New York media will most likely split on this as well — but one thing was clear: the audience adored the show. It got a rousing standing ovation for the cast, and people left the theatre in a great mood. And that is a very good thing in this poor political and financial climate. I’ve read a few blog entries where people either loved it or were indifferent to it as well — and I think that is how this one is going to play out. Another friend said that he was surprised I liked the show, his friends had walked out at intermission. Well let me tell you, I did not see one person leave at the sold-out snowy Sunday afternoon performance that we saw in Chicago. I saw a very happy audience that was positively abuzz with laughter during intermission and back in their seats ready to go for Act 2. I also saw a long line of frozen theatre goers waiting in the cancellation line for possible tickets for the performance. I smell a big fat hit. I am going to go out on a limb and say, this show is at a point in its development that it is already critic proof.

If you live in the regional area — see if you can get to The Addams Family — and go have a great time. It’s also generally family-friendly though it does skew to an adult audience. The full website for the show is here: http://www.theaddamsfamilymusical.com/

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UPDATED 12/29/09 — It has just been announced that Jerry Zaks will be brought in to review and fix the parts of the show that are not currently working! This is great new, and perhaps he will do a good job of reigning in Nathan Lane since they are buddies who have worked together before. For the NYT article, see this link:     http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/theater/29addams.html?ref=arts

And that’s the view from Ann Arbor today.

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Little House on the Prairie, The Musical: Wholesome, lovely, and pure (Review) December 4, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
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Something very rare happened at the Fox Theatre last night in Detroit. I walked to the Box Office at intermission to get a ticket to see the show a second time for later in the weekend. Little House on the Prairie, the Musical, is wholesome, lovely, and pure. It brings something to the musical theatre that hasn’t been seen in a long, long time — a STORY, told simply, with a great cast, costumes, set, and fully geared to the entire family.

Granted, this is not West Side Story. The tale being told here is simple, humorous, and lively. It’s family theatre, and it’s fine. Seen only a few weeks after the not-ready-for-primetime “101 Dalmations, the musical”, Little House is a breath of fresh air – and I mean that in the best way.

While the musical follows the written books, not the tv show, everything here will be familiar (at least to 30-somethings and up). But there is a wonderful story for your young ones to follow as well. The audience was rapt to the show from start to finish, and I have to admit, there are some big tears by the end of the show — I dare you not to well up. I dare you, because you SHOULD well-up — it’s directed beautifully and performed pitch-perfectly to the style and size of the show, and the emotions are perfectly manipulated for you. I’m a big fan of gratuitous emotional manipulation if it is done right — and here it is done right — it sneaks up on you and catches you with a lump in your throat for most of Act II (which is stronger, by the way, than Act I).

Once again, the Fox Theatre proves to be the wrong venue for the production – and was more than half empty at the performance I saw. This is a musical that deserves to be seen. It came to town with great word of mouth from audiences, and critical word of mouth from theatre folks I know. Well, they’re Scrooges if they can’t take a family-classic and enjoy it for a couple hours. I loved it. As I stated before, I loved it so much I’m going back to see it again.

If you saw the musical version of LITTLE WOMEN a few seasons ago, you’ll instantly be familiar with the style of story theatre employed here — props become other objects, set changes and technical objects are kept to a minimum, and the musical focuses on the story at play.

The music is lovely — it evokes Americana at it’s best; though like Aaron Copland or Charles Ives, it soon fades away from memory. But it’s integrated well with the lyrics, and it sweeps you along on, well, the prairie. The art design is perfect for the show, and reminds you that life used to be lived on a much larger canvas than it is now. And the cast itself is one of the most appealing I’ve seen in a long time.

Highly recommended — and I mean that in the most genuine, wholesome, lovely, purest way. This is clean-cut American musical theatre, and it deserves to be seen. Forget the cynics, just get your tickets. It’s here through Sunday. There is nothing objectionable for your little ones (though you might have to explain some of the storyline to them on the way home). Let me just warn you — if you think “Rent” is the best musical ever written, you are going to absolutely hate this musical — call it the anti-Rent…it’s the kind of show that was a dime a dozen in the 50’s — the musicals I grew up on, and the musicals that I consider the “heart” of musical comedy.

And that’s the view from Ann Arbor today.