ON THE RECORD: The Addams Family and Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus' Kristina

News   ON THE RECORD: The Addams Family and Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus' Kristina
We listen to the original cast album of the new musical The Addams Family and the live recording of last fall's Carnegie Hall concert version of the epic musical Kristina.
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THE ADDAMS FAMILY [Decca Broadway BOO14280]
All of us who have seen a fair number of Broadway musicals can name shows that didn't quite work for us in the theatre — or were outright stinkers — which sounded measurably finer when the original cast album came along. The Addams Family, currently doing land-office business and convulsing crowds nightly at the Lunt-Fontanne, is not one of those cases. Andrew Lippa's score, on the original cast album, sounds pretty much like it does in the theatre. Flat — not in the tonal sense — uninspired, and resolutely unAddamsish.

Enough has been said and written about this show to make it unnecessary to elaborate my views (which were stated at the time of the Broadway opening). The general critical consensus was downbeat, as was the reaction from the so-called inside Broadway community — as reflected in the lack of awards or even nominations. This doesn't mean too much; neither Mamma Mia! nor Wicked were big award winners, a distinction from which they have not especially suffered.

The ultimate fate of The Addams Family cannot as yet be foretold; business is likely to continue at a torrid pace for so long as the star remains in the cast. Nathan Lane is probably earning a fortune right now, but when contract renewal time comes he is probably worth double. In my opinion, Lane is the show; there are valuable contributions from some of the other participants, notably Kevin Chamberlin, Carolee Carmello and the scenic designers, but I don't know that I would want to see it again without Nathan. Don't know if I'd want to see it again with Nathan, actually, although I think I might appreciate it more going in knowing what to expect. Or what not to expect.

The cast album, like the show itself, begins with Vic Mizzy's familiar finger-snap theme from "The Addams Family" sitcom. In the theatre, there are occasional injections — mostly visual — of Addams flavoring; not so on the CD. Composer-lyricist Lippa has provided music in styles ranging from tango to vaudeville to up-to-the-minute contemporary, but little that touches on Addamsian-macabre. (Go listen to "Little Things" from Bless You All — in which an Addams-ish housewife walls up her husband behind the fireplace — if you can find it.) Lippa, on the occasion of The Addams Family, has received more praise for his score for The Wild Party than he did when it opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2000. As for The Addams Family, he probably earned more in the first month of the run than he has over the course of his entire professional career. So for Mr. Lippa, as well as Mr. Lane, chalk The Addams Family up as a major success. Even if you don't like it.

KRISTINA [Decca Broadway B0014228]
A sticker on the label of the new two-CD Kristina tells us this is "from the composers of ABBA and Mamma Mia!" Anyone expecting Kristina to sound just like "Dancing Queen," however, is in for a somewhat unexpected listening session. Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus followed their musical Chess — which opened successfully in London in 1986 but lasted a mere two months at the Imperial in 1988 — with the 1995 musical Kristina fran Duvemala. A big, major hit in Sweden. Based on Vilhelm Moberg's 1949 novel "The Emigrants" and its three sequels, the story tells of a couple who emigrate from small-town Sweden to Minnesota in 1850. As you might easily foresee, this is a tale of hardship, struggle, calamity and love. The novels are well-known in Sweden, and along the way the books were filmed in two parts (as "The Emigrants" in 1971 and "The New Land" in 1972, both starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann).

Kristina hasn't had much of a life outside Sweden, but a dedicated set of partisans saw fit to bring a concert version to Carnegie Hall last September. That event — starring Helen Sjöholm as Kristina, Russell Watson as her husband Karl Oskar, and Louise Pitre (the original Mamma of Broadway's Mamma Mia!) as Ulrika, the "happy whore" — was recorded and has now been released by Decca Broadway.

Kristina at Carnegie Hall was at once interesting and unwieldy. Some of the music was quite good — with musical director Paul Gemignani doing an impressive job with the large cast and orchestra — but there was an awful lot of it. The English-language lyrics, by Herbert Kretzmer, were not up to the music; Kretzmer's work was helped, in a roundabout way, by the often indecipherable sound. The opening night audience included a large Swedish-American contingent, who seemed happily immersed in the thing (thanks to familiarity with the musical, the novels, or both). For newcomers to the piece, though, there wasn't much to hold onto despite strong performances from the principals (especially Ms. Sjöholm, who created the role in Sweden, and Kevin Odekirk as her brother-in-law). The whole thing comes off measurably better on the CD. It is still a long and mostly severe piece, although the Messrs. Ulvaeus and Kretzmer do lighten things with a big production number about lice called "Lice."

The Carnegie Hall mounting of Kristina was presumably intended as a first step toward a hoped-for Broadway mounting of this epic musical from the guys who wrote the songs for the blockbuster bonanza Mamma Mia! But Kristina, a great crowd pleaser in Sweden, seems unlikely to enthrall American audiences.

(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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