Review of The Addams Family musical at the New Wimbledon Theatre and UK Tour
They may be creepy, kooky and all together ooky but The Addams Family are one of America's most loved comic strip creations and have finally exploded onto the UK stage in a pleasing musical form, some seven years after first arriving on Broadway.
There's something about the humour in Rick Elice and Marhall Brickman's updated book that seems to capture a British stage sensibility making the overall tone of the show work much better in the UK than it did in America. Perhaps our inherent love of pantomime and farce makes some of the more bawdier jokes land and the broad characterisations seem more forgiveable. Either way as a two-act musical the book problems remain but are neatly glossed over by this handsome and exceptionally well-realised production that raises the game for the quality of touring musicals across the country.
Musicals have routinely been created from the slightest of source materials and comic strips are certainly no exception. We're more likely to remember Annie than we are Lil' Abner, Andy Capp or even You're a Good Man Charlie Brown – all musicals that have taken the two dimensional and treated it to a generous new form. What The Addams Family lacks in drama and narrative craft it makes up for in a general atmospheric sense and we're able to enjoy our time in the company of Gomez, Morticia, Lurch and a Grandma who 'may not even belong to the family' because of their strong characters and appealing lack of 'normality'.
The musical's structure wrestles with itself internally – I've always wished this non conventional material had spawned something less conventional as the fun, and there's certainly lots of it, feels too constrained and 'by the book' in terms of giving audiences what they want at exactly the point the book writers think they should want it. If you can't play sketchy, loose and free with this material – when can you? The lack of ensemble in what is basically an enclosed drawing-room drama is solved by bringing back 'ancestors' who haunt the stage to give movement to the numbers but feel overused and slightly forced but serve the expectations of a large-scale musical comedy.
Composer Andrew Lippa is the king of modern toe-tappers and he stuffs the show full of tune after solid tune. His lyrics are consistently bright and surprising – it really pays to pay attention, especially to the canny updates from the Broadway version. Melodically he allows each of his characters to soar, with a solid mix of production numbers alternating between the less restrained introspectives. However the show lacks an overall musical language and whilst Lippa is perhaps unrivalled in his ability to compose songs that work solidly in the cabaret space and rep book the musical as a whole misses a composite sound that would help each of the pastiche numbers feel more complete. Rather than drive the action musically his songs instead create moments of reflection for the characters who find themselves either “Trapped”, “Pulled”, “Waiting”, asking “What If?” or in a Sondheim-esque pastiche, torn between “Happy/Sad”. Whilst each of these songs work in the moment they never drive the action which makes the whole piece more contemplative than direct.
This is an undeniably fun production that showcases the material at its finest, complete with a strong set of performances that juggle our expectations with a sense of freshness. Sam Womack plays everything on a lean and battles with her wig but has a strong comic presence as matriarch Morticia Addams and whilst she may not be quite as dry and uncompromising as her character suggests she pulls out a solid musical delivery of the second act's biggest numbers. Carrie Hope Fletcher is in consistently fine voice as the conflicted Wednesday Addams, nailing her first act number and making the best of her low-stakes drama that holds the whole piece together. Elsewhere there's surprising support from Les Dennis as Uncle Fester and the hard-working Valda Aviks who keep the tone light and inviting. I was most impressed by Cameron Blakely in the role of Gomez Addams, shaking off the ghosts of Nathan Lane who created the role on Broadway, finding his own individuality that mixes a strong rapport with the audience and working with the new material to ground the story in the moment. He's charming and seductive in his delivery and works the stage by effectively milking the lack of tension.
Matthew White directs with craft and knows exactly where to land his jokes and utlise Diego Pitrach's ingenious set that offers a constantly changing set of delights that bring the kooky world to life. Alistair David's choreography is strong and surprising, effectively utilising the somewhat lost ensemble and helping each number take off.
This is an impressive touring production that offers audiences around the country a slice of Broadway-fare in a neat and carefully conceived manner that brims with delight. The strongest version of this slight yet amiable show I've seen, this is one family you won't regret paying a visit.