Regardless of your age, you probably have some connection to the ooky, spooky Addams Family. As a TV-saturated kid in the 1970s, I watched countless reruns of the mid-1960s sitcom. But that show was preceded by the New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams, who created the characters in the late 1930s. Then there are the 1990s movies, videogames and other spinoffs.
Suffice it to say these characters have been circulating in pop culture for nearly as long as Grandma has been doddering around. Now Madison audiences have a chance to see The Addams Family musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2010 but has since been extensively reworked.
Based on the production that opened Tuesday night in Overture Hall, I'm not sure The Addams Family doesn't still need rejiggering. While an enthusiastic crowd clearly brought its own fondness for the characters -- during the overture, before the curtains had even opened, people happily snapped along with the signature da-da-da-DUM tune -- there is an odd flatness to some of the characters.
As the bleakly droll Morticia, Sara Gettelfinger doesn't fully connect. While she's good in the show's most catchy number, the Latin-tinged opener "When You're an Addams," and in a funny scene putting Pugsley to bed (whom she affectionately calls "my little vermin"), her performance overall lacks oomph.
Douglas Sills fares better as the handsome and snappily dressed Gomez, but the real scene-stealer is Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond), who lights up every scene he's in -- even when not sticking a light bulb in his mouth. Despite his ghostly pallor, Fester has life -- and a soft spot for the moon, to which he sings a love song in the sweet and memorable "The Moon and Me," which boasts some whimsically low-tech special effects.
As Lurch, the alarmingly tall Tom Corbeil also wins laughs. Given his training as an opera singer, I wish there were more chances for him to show off his voice, but he leaves a memorable impression in a smallish role, as do the members of a chorus of dead Addams ancestors.
While the audience's affections are clearly with the established Addams characters, the show introduces a new family, the squeaky-clean Beinekes from Ohio. Now grown, Wednesday has fallen in love with Lucas Beineke, and he and his parents come to the Addams' gloomy mansion in Central Park to get acquainted with the clan.
As relentlessly cheery mom Alice, Gaelen Gilliland is a bright spot. Given to speaking in rhyming poems, she's a perfect foil to the dark weirdness of the Addamses. The easy-to-follow plot revolves around whether the two families can accept each other, paving the way for Wednesday and Lucas to wed. Cortney Wolfson is an appealing Wednesday, whose strong, clear voice is suited to pop-rock numbers like "Pulled."
The Addams Family is a thoroughly pop-culture musical in both its origins and references. With nods to everything from texting and Charlie Sheen to swing states and homeschooling thrown in, Addams strives for relevance in our current moment. Though many of Andrew Lippa's songs are not that memorable, and the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice could be stronger, Addams seems to deliver just what the audience wants -- one more chance to immerse themselves in this cheerfully creepy world.