July 19, 2012 | by Patrick Folliard
Altogether ooky

‘The Addams Family’
Through July 29
The Kennedy Center Opera House
$39-$115
202-467-4600
kennedy-center.org

Grandma (Pippa Pearthree) and Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) in ‘The Addams Family,’ whose touring production is at the Kennedy Center. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

“The Addams Family,” the musical comedy take on Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoon (now playing at the Kennedy Center), begins rather well.

Thing, the unforgettable disembodied hand, pulls back a vermilion curtain to reveal a misty cemetery at midnight. The whole ghoulish gang is on hand — Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Grandma, Uncle Fester and towering, taciturn Lurch — to sing “When You’re  an Addams.” Backing the familiar faces is an exuberant chorus of dancing Addams ancestors who’ve emerged from their mausoleum for the evening. The pallid apparitions include a neatly dressed young woman still wearing the life vest that didn’t save her from an untimely demise.

But then the number ends and the story begins.

Penned by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the disappointingly slim plot involves a romance between Wednesday and a nice boy. Things go awry when the young man’s “normal” parents visit from bland Ohio (in the musical, the Addams’ baronial pile is located in Central Park) to meet Wednesday and her oddball family. Further complicating matters is Gomez’s agreement to keep Wednesday’s imminent nuptials a secret from his controlling wife Morticia.

The plot is a familiar one. Young person attempts to hide oddball family’s eccentricities from prospective, buttoned-up in-laws.  It’s been done to death and usually with better results: Think “La Cage aux Folles” and “You Can’t Take It with You” for starters.

To accommodate the love story, Wednesday’s age has been upped changing her from solemn pre-teen to strident young adult. Sadly, her iconic black braids have been replaced with a boring bob.

The score by Andrew Lippa (who’s gay) is mostly underwhelming. Exceptions include “The Moon and Me,” a second act love song sung by Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond) and “Just Around the Corner,” an upbeat ode to death sung by Morticia and the ancestors.

The fabulously whimsical puppetry of Basil Twist is evident mostly in Fester’s moon song. Twist (also gay) designed a scary dragon that lives beneath Pugsley’s bed, and Cousin Itt’s love interest is a coquettish anthropomorphized tassel cut from the stage curtain.

Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch are credited with original direction, spot-on costumes and an appropriately creepy, Halloweenish set. Broadway director Jerry Zaks supervises the entire production.

As Gomez, talented Douglas Sills is well cast and charming, but even he can’t elevate the mediocre material. And while Sara Gettelfinger is a terrific singer, her oafish Morticia lacks elegance — absent are the macabre femme fatale’s famed mincing steps and graceful gestures.  Not that it matters. Gettelfinger’s navel-cut neckline entirely upstages her performance anyway.

“The Addams Family” musical premiered on Broadway in 2010. It’s the latest addition to an Addams franchise that began with the New Yorker cartoon and went more middlebrow with the popular ‘60s sitcom and two successful ‘90s feature films. The national tour production currently at the Kennedy Center is a reworked version of the Broadway version.

Regrettably, the musical has none of the fun, wit or style of other Addams entertainments. Too bad, because of all the many TV-to-big screen franchises, “The Addams Family” with its distinct atmosphere and strong characters seemed particularly poised to be successfully mined for musical theater. Unfortunately it didn’t happen.

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