Sometimes, it’s all about the cast.
That’s been the story from the start for Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s The Addams Family musical. Its original Broadway production got the kind of New York Times review that usually closes a show. Instead, through glamorous power-casting in the principal roles (Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane; later Brooke Shields and Roger Rees), and fine supporting actors, Addams Family had a more than respectible run of nearly two years.
The cast is the great story at Media, too – across the board, they’re first rate. In fact, I’m willing to bet the show has never been better sung than it is here. For their contribution alone, this is must-see.
I expected Jeffrey Coon to fill the room with lustrous tone and boyish charm (and he did). But in the character part of Gomez, he also displayed a new confidence and slyness. Coon looked like a happy man – but how could be be otherwise, playing opposite the ravishing Jennie Eisenhower, who shimmered with sex appeal, sang superbly, and delivered the comedy with surgical precision. As their daughter, Wednesday, Lauren Cupples looks suitably like a sullen teenager, and sounds like a rising Broadway star. The delightful Kristine Fraelich nearly steals the show with her big number. Fester, Pugsley, Lurch, Grandma – all terrific, as is the endearingly daft ensemble.
And the book, music and lyrics? Not the disaster suggested by the New York Times, but they are disappointing. Brickman and Elice’s libretto is almost more Frankenstein than Addams Family, in that it seems uneasily stiched together from borrowed pieces. Lippa tries to give his songs an individual profile – there are Latin dance rhythms to evoke Gomez’s Spanish roots, for example. Some of it is tuneful, though none of it is memorable. Fundamentally, the writing is too broad and jokey to capture the sublime drollery of Addams’ cartoons.
But keep your eyes on Coon, Eisenhower and company, and you won’t mind a bit. Don’t just take my word for it – my companion at The Addams Family is not a theater person, but nonetheless highly opinionated and often critical. At intermission, he looked at me with astonishment. “The cast really couldn’t be better, could they?,” he asked.
Through November 2, Media Theatre, 104 E. State St., Media, PA, (610) 891-0100. www.mediatheatre.org