Photograph by Jeremy Daniel
Anyone who knows me knows this: I'm a homer. I love St. Louis, and I get all worked up and tetchy when the all too prevalent local inferiority complex rears its ugly head. As evidenced by my calendar this summer and especially the past few weeks, there is an embarrassment of divertive riches to be explored in our fair city. Fold in the cost of living, the architectural environment, the full-fledged honest-to-god seasons we experience—buddy, we got us a town! Sometimes my pride finds a manifestation, one shining example, and a pure distillation of Lou-specific awesome-sauce that cannot, will not be denied. It's not just that no other town has our Fox Theatre; there are fine, ornate historic theaters to be found throughout this great land of ours. It's that only in the Gateway City can you see The Addams Family musical at our Fox. Sure, other lovely theaters will host the tour of this Broadway spectacle, but they just aren't the Fox. I dare imagine few other spaces with the indulgent Rococo opulence of our Grand Center gem. Strew the odd cobweb here and there from its garish Byzantine appointments, and it may as well be a wing of the titular family's manse. Pity our countrymen whose experience of this production will not come wrapped in such an apt package. I might further suggest that the setting might serve to augment this surprisingly traditional musical's impact a smidge or two.
Actually, to refer to this as the “Broadway musical” The Addams Family, misses the mark a bit. As happens more and more often these days, the touring-show audience is treated to a “fixed” presentation of the material, rather than a step-by-step transfer of the New York product with a different cast. Time constraints and cost concerns require a show to go up on Broadway whether or not the producers have brought the show to full-term, as it were, and if it's wobbly out of the gate, negative reviews can kill it before there's time to re-work. The piece on offer at the Fox is the fruit of a re-imagining process that began in New Orleans late this summer, including three new songs among the tweaks deemed necessary to improve the experience. I won't claim to know the difference from the original Addams Family musical, but it's nice to think that these days, the touring production carries enough financial clout to the creative teams that they keep working to refine the product. Rather than cynically trotting out some second-tier copy on the flyover unwashed, which is how Broadway-on-tour stuff often felt not so very long ago, we now get treated to a better show than the original.
But is it good? In short, yes. Very good, in fact. A cast peppered with Tony nominees doesn't hurt a bit, I'll point out. If there's a disappointment to convey, it's how traditional and vanilla the story line is. Wednesday Addams (Cortney Wolfson) loves Lucas Beineke (Brian Justin Crum) but she's concerned his uptight “normal” parents (Martin Vidnovic and Crista Moore) just won't get down with the Addams vibe. Conflict, and thus hilarity, ensues. Yawn. Thankfully, the talent on offer combines with the enduring charm of Charles Addams's oddball characters to ultimately overcome the humdrum subject matter. Eye-candy abounds as various scrims and rolling set pieces take us in and around the Addams's Central Park digs—a particularly winning gag involves a golden curtain tassel with a mind of its own. Douglas Sills’ Gomez owns the stage with a broad, winning grin and outsized affability. Question: does Gomez have to have a Spanish accent? I mean, Raul Julia actually has an accent, but John Astin didn't. Just saying. I suppose it helps tie in with the decidedly Latin flavor of the songs, and it's not distracting at all, the question just parked itself in my brain, so that's that. The dance arrangement by August Eriksmoen is splendid, notably the ensemble work of the cast of ancestors, ghostly Addamses from throughout history who function equally as a Greek chorus and as active participants in the goings-on as Fester (the outstanding song-and-dance man Blake Hammond) directs them in ensuring the success of the budding romance. Especially fun are some of the goofy unison dance moves given to the family members—seeing the stony faced Addamses dancing the Monkey and the Frug is a pure crack-up. The ancestors also nimbly facilitate a bit with an arrow that neatly evokes The Matrix; a fine nerd-out moment.
Not every song is a winner. ”Happy/Sad” with its “Isn't It Ironic?” lyrical matter feels like a forced effort at a tender father-daughter tune, and Eric Idle deserves writing credit and some cash for “(Death is) Just Around the Corner,” as it “borrows” liberally from “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from The Life of Brian. Overall, though, they're more clever than not, and superbly performed. If YouTube gives me any dependable indication, the songs get a much better treatment by the touring cast than the Nathan Lane/Bebe Neuwirth Broadway crew. Rich, splendid harmonic precision goes a long way with me. The book is peppered as much with referential stabs at hipness as with woeful groaners; one gets the feeling in the final scene that one character's name was chosen solely to open the door for a “Honeymooners” reference. A long way to go for a Ralph Kramden bit. I can sense you crawling out of your skins because I haven't mentioned Lurch yet. Worth the ticket price alone! Tom Corbeil boasts the appropriate stature and has transformed his matinee idol visage into a Buster Keaton puss that would make George Romero weep, and owns a rich, powerful operatic bass baritone. He owns the show twice: in Act I, he tells a wordless joke that nearly made me pee, and then later he sings. Words cannot do justice to how beautifully Corbeil relieves the anticipation as he launches into the “Climb Every Mountain”-esque “Move Toward the Darkness.”
I'd be remiss if I didn't share an observation. In Act I, as Grandma (Pippa Pearthree) counsels Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) on the impending loss of his dear torturing sister, Grandma scolds, “Why don't you knock of the texting and pick up a book?!?” Biggest laugh line of the night. Those darn kids and their texting! Give ya three guesses what damn near every set of hands in the room was doing as the first surge of electricity crackled down the line to the house lights? Priceless. Do they sell a powerful signal-blocker I could start carrying around?
If you do the musical thing, you should hit up The Addams Family. At the level where a Broadway show goes out on tour, you can safely assume some clever and talented folks have been on board along the way, and that you're in for some well sung, ably danced good-looking entertainment. Essentially, it's one's own interest in the subject matter that shapes our individual appreciation. This explains why the big producers have, rather lazily, funneled so much treasure and effort into “musicalizing” every popular film, book, song, concept and soon, I would imagine, snack food (Twizzler!). So no one really went out on a limb making Addams, as the popularity of these characters and their macabre normality has been proven in The New Yorker, on TV and in two rather successful films. That said, the powers behind this show clearly share that love, and have infused this production with wit, humor and heart. It doesn't hurt one bit that you get to see it in the Addams's very own rec-room.