PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 3-9: Addams and Tenor Open on Broadway

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 3-9: Addams and Tenor Open on Broadway
 
The Addams family, with their taste for the macabre, would have relished the critical reception that the Broadway musical based on them got on the morning of April 9. It was so dreary, so unhappy-making, so nasty.

The Addams Family stars Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane
The Addams Family stars Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane Photo by Joan Marcus

The producers of the $16.5 million dollar musical, The Addams Family, however, might not be so enamored of the gloom.

The few mildly positive notices that greeted the property — which once had the word "hit" written all over it — had an almost sheepish tone to them, as if the critics were bending over backwards to say something nice. But the negative ones went for the jugular, calling the show ordinary, disappointing and misguided. One called it an "ill-formed one-dimensional cartoon." Another asked, "How many talented people does it take to screw up a concept?" Michael Sommers summed up the prevailing opinion in a particularly charitable way, noting, "the results are an expert, energetic attraction that could be far sharper in terms of composition, but likely to satisfy anyone who loves the Addams, appreciates terrific performances and really wants to have more of a comfortable than a brilliant Broadway experience." Which is not exactly a marquee-ready quote.

The worst notice, however, came from the New York Times' Ben Brantley, who seemed personally affronted by the production. He called the show "a tepid goulash of vaudeville song-and-dance routines, Borscht Belt jokes, stingless sitcom zingers and homey romantic plotlines that were mossy in the age of 'Father Knows Best.' ...The Addams Family is most distinctive for its wholesale inability to hold on to a consistent tone or an internal logic."

Most reviews laid a lot of blame at the feet of show doctor Jerry Zaks, who was brought in to fix the musical, which was originally directed (and still is, in name only) by the edgy and arty duo Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch. Critics accused Zaks of homogenizing the material into standard Broadway fare. Composer Andrew Lippa's score was called dull and uninspired by most. And even the librettist team of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who have enjoyed sterling reputations every since Jersey Boys, took plenty of knocks. Only star Nathan Lane won consistent praise for his energetic performance as patriarch Gomez Addams.

But will any of this malice matter for the brand-name show? The musical is said to have a $15 million dollar advance. ***

Critics had a completely different reaction to another new musical that opened this week. Bloody Andrew Jackson, the new show by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, which calls itself an "emo rock show" and casts our nation's seventh President as a angry, petulant rock star, opened at the Public Theater as a co-production with Center Theatre Group, in association with the Off-Broadway troupe Les Freres Corbusier.

The reviews said the show was hilarious and silly while also being artistically inventive and politically perceptive, and quite contemporary in its look at America's history as a series of adolescent, populist upheavals. One reviewer said, "If you're dying for something traditional, you're better off at the likes of Yank! or The Scottsboro Boys. But if you want the best new musical of the season, get in line at The Public," which must have sent a shiver up the spine of those Broadway-bound shows. By week's end, Jackson had extended to May 9.

***

Anthony LaPaglia and Justin Bartha in Lend Me A Tenor.
photo by Joan Marcus

Also opening on Broadway this week was a revival of Ken Ludwig's 20-year-old, door-slamming operatic farce Lend Me a Tenor, starring Anthony LaPaglia, Tony Shalhoub and Justin Bartha at the Music Box Theatre, with Stanley Tucci directing. A few critics took Ludwig's script to task, noting that it had never actually been the laugh riot and structural model that legend has purported it to be. But the lion's share assessed the play quite differently, saying the farce was goofy and entertaining and foolish fun when it debuted — and remained so two decades later. A few other Broadway shows that had netted less-than-stellar receptions in recent months threw in the towel. Looped, the comedy starring Valerie Harper as a late-career Tallulah Bankhead, will close April 11 after 27 previews and 25 regular performances at the Lyceum Theatre. (A tour is being discussed and a Toronto production seems assured.) And All About Me, the short-lived Broadway production pairing entertainers Dame Edna Everage and Michael Feinstein, closed April 4 at the Henry Miller's Theatre. Joining it was the Broadway revival of William Gibson's The Miracle Worker.

***

Not a good sign.

The Broadway debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies, which officially opened in London March 9 at the Adelphi Theatre to mixed reviews — and a terrible notice from the New York Times — has been postponed.

Originally scheduled for a November 2010 Broadway bow, the musical will now open at the Neil Simon Theatre in spring 2011.

The delay was chalked up to the composer's inability to travel following surgery. An April 6 statement from the show's producers says that the original date was set prior to Lloyd Webber's diagnosis with prostate cancer last fall. "Although the cancer has been eradicated, there have been post-operative problems," according to the statement. "These have been aggravated by recent air travel and Lloyd Webber's doctors have requested that he does not take any further long-haul flights for the time being and until the problem has been investigated. This prevents him attending auditions and being part of the pre-production process in New York on the original schedule."

***

Finally, one of the more curious and unlikely jukebox musicals of all time will come to the Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer. Called The Last Goodbye, the plot was adapted by Michael Kimmel from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which is a familiar enough story. The music, however, will be drawn from the catalogue of late singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley.

Buckley is a particularly poignant figure in the history of rock and roll. He died May 29, 1997, in a swimming accident in the Mississippi River, when he was caught in the wake of a passing boat. He was only 30 years old and had recorded one studio album, "Grace." Expectations had been high for Buckley. He was born the only son of another musician and vocalist, Tim Buckley, who also came to a tragic and early end, dying at 28 of an accidental drug overdose. Given this history, Shakespeare's tale of romantic early death and Buckley's music would seem a sadly apt fit.

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