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When the finger snaps that accompany the familiar bah-dah-dah-bum theme song refrain conclude, the stage of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre opens to reveal a serenely macabre clan standing in a tight-knit cluster behind the gate of a graveyard. The clan is, of course, the Addams Family: Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, Pugsley, Fester, Grandma and Lurch, posed in contented ghoulishness beneath a massive Spanish oak: the Addams Family Tree.
To be an Addams, they sing, is to be the antithesis of things like sunshine, country music and MTV -- instead, they reveal, it comes down to shadows and gloom: "...Broken glass in a motel room/something fun we can all exhume."
But then, we know all that: these deliciously sepulchral Addamses have been a part of our pop culture landscape one way or another for decades, embodying life (or death’s!) most appealing morbid delights. They repress nothing and are not at all depressed.
Morticia clips the heads off flowers. Gomez collects torture devices he lovingly calls “instruments of persuasion.” Wednesday is rarely seen without her favorite accessory: a crossbow she wields as skillfully as if she were Diana the huntress. And young Pugsley revels in having his limbs stretched on the rack.
“We move toward the darkness where most musicals move toward the light,” says Roger Rees, the eclectic Shakespearean actor who replaced Nathan Lane as Gomez, the family patriarch with an elegant mustache, tailored suits and a thick Spanish accent.
Rees’s Gomez plays opposite Tony winner Bebe Neuwirth, who originated the role of Morticia on Broadway and will remain with show until late June, when Brooke Shields takes over on the 28th. The naturally deadpan Neuwirth is pitch perfect as she slinks around the stage in a skin-tight black gown, tossing off one-liners and feeding mice to her pet Venus flytrap. Her pale white skin and dry demeanor add to her overall Morticia-ness, while her skills as a dancer heighten the stage heat in her show-stopping tango with Rees. (As they dance, Morticia asks Gomez: “Has anyone ever told you, you move like a corpse?” Happy with the praise, Gomez replies: “Thank you, I studied with Lurch.”)
“Bebe and I met on Cheers, and I directed her in The Taming of the Shrew,” says Rees, who also played Petruchio in the production. “It’s wonderful to be out there with my friend.”
The musical’s storyline has parents Gomez and Morticia contending with a now 18-year-old Wednesday (Rachel Potter) and her desire to marry her beau, Lucas Beineke (Jesse Swenson). The problem? Wednesday insists her bizarre family unit act “normal” when they host a dinner for Lucas’s square and uptight parents, Mal (Adam Grupper) and Alice (Heidi Blickenstaff).
Along the way, Fester (Brad Oscar) is shown to be a moonstruck romantic; a whacked-out Grandma (Jackie Hoffman) purveys potions with names like acrimonium; a giant squid named Bernice alters Mal’s life forever, and beloved Thing and Cousin Itt make cameo appearances.
The Addamses have been brought to New York -- where they live in a mansion on Central Park -- by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who wrote the book, and composer Andrew Lippa. And instead of heavily tapping the 1960s TV series and the two 1990s film versions for inspiration, the Broadway team opted to expand on the family’s true roots: the New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams. In fact, some of the dialogue is taken directly from actual cartoon captions.
“It’s fun to play recognizable people, and then to push it further,” says Rees, who won a Best Actor Tony playing Nicholas Nickleby in 1982. “Their responses to life are the same as everyone, but they’re subverted and upside down. They’re tremendous characters; it’s a thrill play someone so delineated in the audience’s mind.”
The Addams Family is playing at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St. For tickets, call 212-307-4100 or click here.
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