photo: Matt Hoyle
Near the top of the second act of The Addams Family, Uncle Fester (Kevin Chamberlain) turns to the audience to ask if we think that the story will all work out in the end, or if we think we'll go home in an hour vaguely depressed. The story works out of course, insofar as there is a story, but we're likely to leave vaguely depressed anyhow. Impeccably designed and blessed with the enormous good will of the audience (whose affection for the characters is so strong that most snap along with the TV theme song in the overture) the ill-conceived musical comedy would be forgiven a lot - including its bungled storyline - if it was funny. But even Nathan Lane, committing completely with the full force of his clowning genius as Gomez, can't make it so. He works his ass off - mugging here, spinning a line there - but since he hasn't been given even one single genuinely funny line, his determination starts to reek like flop sweat. For a show about endearingly macabre, outside-the-box characters, the musical is awfully square, from Andrew Lippa's show tune score (which lacks cohesion - one number has a bossa nova beat while another sounds like a Kander-Ebb trunk song) to the love-conquers-all theme that doesn't suit the characters. There are moments - for instance, Fester's number in the second act, in which he seems to swim through a sky of chorus-girl-faced stars up to the moon, has a quirky, magical charm that shames the rest of the show's boulevard coarseness. And the sight of Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia, dancing with Death's sickle around her waist and leading a chorus line of ghosts, is more amusing than what passes for jokes in the show. Jackie Hoffman scores some laughs - I'm not sure that depicting Grandmama as an aged Woodtsock hippie with a peyote stash in the attic was the best way to go, but at least a decision was made that translates the character to the real world.