PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Addams Family Pall in the Family

By Harry Haun
April 9, 2010

Meet the first-nighters at the opening of the new Broadway musical The Addams Family.



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Break out the black-crepe confetti! The Addams Family, Charles Addams' night-for-day inversion of the ideal American family which lined the pages of The New Yorker in single-panel cartoons for half a century (1938-1988), came home to New York March 8, settling down for a long nocturnal stay at the Lunt-Fontanne. They've lost none of the black-and-white gloom-and-pallor that they had as satiric sketches and as mid-'60s TV-series creatures (1964-1966) — at least for the opening number that establishes their gospel of gallows humor, "When You're an Addams."

But it soon develops — for a "plot" — that the daughter of the clan, Wednesday Addams (Krysta Rodriguez), has, over the years, grown up to marriageable age and found herself a four-squared fellow from picket-fence Ohio, Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor). Talk about horror! Her parents, Gomez (Nathan Lane) and Morticia (Bebe Neuwirth), are horrified at the prospects.

When Wednesday descends the stairs of the dilapidated family mansion for a date, she's outfitted in screaming canary-yellow, blinding all about her and burrowing a hole of light into their dark world. Then, guess who's coming to dinner?

That's right: The beau's parents, Mal (Terrence Mann), who sells real estate, and Alice (Carolee Carmello), who writes, and frequently spouts, greeting-card poetry; not only that, she too is decked out in offensively sunshiny yellow (or, as Gomez prefers to call it, "the misunderstood primary color").

Ask not for whom the wedding bell tolls — you don't even have to. This kind of clash of classes, with a marriage in the balance, has animated comedies from You Can't Take It With to La Cage aux Folles, and this show sticks to the track.

To equalize the social barriers, some mischief is instigated by brat-in-residence Pugsley Addams (Adam Riegler), who, realizing his days of rack torture by Big Sis are at an end, decides to drug her into pitch-blackness and scare her suitor away. Grandma (Jackie Hoffman), a wilted flower-child from the "summer of love," has just the potion. Unfortunately, it is intercepted by Alice Beineke, who throws caution to the winds and bumps-and-grinds across the dinner table.

Bald and bulky Uncle Fester (Kevin Chamberlin), making wide, love-mad eyes at the moon, and hulking hunk Lurch (Zachary James), shuffling leadenly about in Frankenstein fits and spurts, are also on hand, as is a whole crypt full of ghostly Addams ancestors who come out at night for the production numbers.

As you may gather, the casting is — to use a not-inappropriate word — dead-on. From Lane and Neuwirth lording with such serious silliness over the proceedings to Lurch's last lunge, it seems made-to-order — and was: Casting was being done as the show was being written, enabling the Jersey Boys scripters, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, to customize the characterizations.

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Bebe Neuwirth
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
So, when the show didn't land right in its Chicago tryout, some very important names were dispatched to the Windy City to assess the damage and suggest the fixes. The result that reached Broadway, bandaged but unbowed, is a testament to scotch tape and craftsmanship, and it was warmly welcomed by first-nighters.

The mystery remains, of course. If the title page is to be believed, The Addams Family was directed by The Invisible Man. The designated directors-designers are Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, a Brit team responsible for the grandly Grand Guignol children's musical, Shockheaded Peter. Listed legalistically as "Creative Consultant" is Jerry Zaks, who steered Lane through Guys and Dolls, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and The Man Who Came to Dinner — clearly, the man with the key to Lane's inner workings. When asked as he entered the theatre what they called what he did, Zaks put up his "Shhh" finger.

The after-party was held with blissful convenience directly across the street at the Marriott Marquis — but on a different floor than usual: the cavernous Westside Ballroom on the fifth floor, which first-nighters somehow filled up in nothing flat.

In tribute to Gomez, cigar stands were set up by Nat Sherman, "Tobacconist to the World" (quite a title in this day and age), and there were bushels of free apples prompted by Wednesday's archery prowess with her boyfriend. There was also a photo shop equipped to place you on the wall with the Addams family. And the orchestra of Hank Lane (no relation, I'm told) kept the customers dancing long after the reviews came out. There was even a swag bag as you exited — the first in many seasons — but the "swag" consisted of only an Addams family writing pad.


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A veteran campaigner at this sort of thing, Lane came early and left early, making a cursory pass at the cameras and zipping pass print people. Inside the ballroom, he was the short nucleus around which clustered rows upon rows of tall well-wishers, praising him on a hard night's work. It was very much Hail the Conquering Hero.

Lane hosannahs were a constant with his co-stars as well, starting at the top with Neuwirth, despite a Cindy Adams report that the chill between the two of them could power a refrigerator. Not so, she insisted. In fact, "I said to Nathan, ''I think that you and I should go to some restaurant and make out in the back.'"

Professionally, she couldn't be more pleased with her playing partner: "It's a good combination, right? We're very comfortable together. In a lot of ways, we're very different performers, but there is a certain commonality with us, a point of view, and it's really fun to be part of that pairing — two very strong entities working together."

Her first reaction about being offered Morticia? "'Let me at her.' I was champing at the bit. I used to watch the show when I was a little girl, and I thought Carolyn Jones was the most beautiful, elegant presence. I loved her, and I loved the show."

Chamberlin is another childhood fan from the show. "I stole from Jackie Coogan," he said of his Uncle Fester.

When he was asked how he enjoyed the evening and he said, "I had a blast," he meant that literally. The finale finds him in rocket-man gear.

Hoffman is happy to say her Grandma has grown in the process of getting here. "Thank God! In the original version, I wasn't in the second act at all — that killed me! — then they threw me a couple of bones for which I am very grateful."

She remembered Grandma from her television impersonation by Blossom Rock, the elder sister of Jeanette MacDonald. "I love everything about that character. I love that she's crude and crass. She smokes a lot of grass, and she has had a past."

This is, after Hairspray and Xanadu, her third Broadway show — her biggest show and longest title to date. A full standup report will follow at Joe's Pub, no doubt.

Mann, who originated the Beast of Beauty and the Beast, is here playing at least in the eyes of the Addamses the Beast of Ohio, a conservative businessman undone by camaraderie with the idiosyncratic Gomez.

It's no easy task maintaining a straight face around Lane, Mann admitted. "You're biting the inside of your cheek so hard because he cracks you up as well. I mean, he's so funny — and brilliant. It's amazing to be on stage with somebody with those qualities. When you've been in this business as long as I have been, you pretty much think, 'Well, I've pretty much seen it all. I've been around' — but then you go out there and you work with somebody like Nathan and Bebe and Carolee and Kevin, and you learn all over again. It has been so refreshing to be with those folks."

Carmello, as his flipped-out ever-lovin', delights in her big drug-prompted mad scene in the first act. "I look forward to that every night," she said. "The best part of this for me is that I get to do all this physical comedy, which I don't get to do because I'm usually the somber leading lady. So it's fun to do the shtick and get the laughs."

She also had very kind words for Lane. "I always tell him, in the dojo of the martial arts of comedy, he's the great teacher, the great leader of all us disciples."

Rodriguez has seen her character, Wednesday, grow up in different mediums — first on the TV series and then in the feature films with Christina Ricci doing the part. Hers is an even later version of the character. "She knows the dark so well, yet now, in this show, she's experiencing the light. But she's still so stoic, and other times she feels more than anyone else feels — but she shows almost none of it."

A Theatre World Award winner for this Broadway debut in Rock of Ages, Taylor is slightly delirious with the stage company he's keeping playing Rodriguez's main-squeeze. "It's a dream come true — working with these theatre legends, sharing the stage with people I grew up watching, and now I get to share the stage with them."

Andrew Lippa, who contributed 18 songs to the occasion, wrote much more. "Any show that you work on, you find out that there are some songs that you want to change or make better," the composer stated. "I guess there were about six to ten songs that got cut. The opening number is different. We have five different numbers in the show from what we had in Chicago, and there are probably another five or six that I wrote along the route — maybe a little more than that.

"We didn't watch the television show, because we didn't base this on the television show. We read and looked through every cartoon that Charles Addams drew. And musically I wanted to follow the characters in a character-based kind of way so Gomez is a little bit Spanish and Wednesday is a little bit contemporary and Uncle Fester is a little bit vaudevillian and Morticia has got a little gypsy in her soul, a little show business in her soul — so it's been really fun to combine those elements and try to fit them into one score."

Co-author Elice admitted Lane had his input into the finished book. "Nathan is a genius, and he's very adept. And if he feels he can't be funny, he isn't shy about saying it, but God love him for saying it. Nathan finds laughs inside of laughs. He works harder than anyone I've ever seen. He is unceasing in his effort to make every possible second of the show as enjoyable as possible for the audience. I've never seen anything like it. And it's the great joy of my life that I got to spend these months watching him every day."

It was a pretty rocky ride to Broadway, he allowed. "The storyline didn't change, but the tone of the show became more consistently a musical-comedy show. We may have presented a show in Chicago — unintentionally, of course — that was perceived as schizophrenic in tone or at least inconsistent in tone. If there was a lesson to be learned, it is that you need to pick what you want the tone of the show to be, and then you need to make it something. And we picked musical comedy.

"I guess every show is hard in its own way. It's like what's hard in a family — and this show has literally been a family. And it has been great to work with Nathan and Bebe — such a talented cast. Really, I'm such a lucky guy, Harry. I'm embarrassed to even talk to you. I should be interviewing you. How are you doing?"