Will “The Addams Family” Be Critic Proof?

It was a long time coming, but “The Addams Family” opened last night on Broadway. The reviews are scathing, and the question is: Can a show with millions in pre-sales overcome the critics?

“The Addams Family” took in nearly $1.4 million last week in previews. It was third at the box office behind “Wicked” and “The Lion King.” A new show, not even opened, such a hit? It’s never happened before.

You could see why at last night’s premiere. Stars Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth were met with adulatory applause from an audience that was part celebrity and part real people. Among the stars who showed: Matthew Broderick (with a bodyguard no less) plus Bob and Lynne Balaban, Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kodb, Tony Roberts, Tova Feldshuh, and “Ray” director Taylor Hackford.

The crowd loved the show, as did the “real” audience I saw it with a couple of weeks ago. But “The Addams Family” is taking a drubbing from theater critics. And they’re right. The show is a mess, from top to bottom. The songs by Andrew Lippa are so awful that one of them includes a comedy line about “Schindler’s List.” Ouch! What was Lippa thinking? The songs do nothing to drive the story along; many of them are just self contained, with terrible lyrics. A couple of them sound like Meat Loaf’s cast offs.

And then there’s the script: it is baffling how this slight plot line mirrors a movie in which Nathan Lane once starred: “The Birdcage.” In this version, Wednesday Addams is now more Marilyn Munster, the “normal” member of an odd family. She wants to marry a normal boy and so invites his normal family to dinner. Sound familiar? Soon this conservative Ohio couple (Terrance Mann, Carolee Carmello) are loosening up and getting wild.

“The Addams Family” grinds to a halt somewhere in there. I particularly objected to the constant references to death and love of it; the Addamses are obsessed with it, but nothing explains why or who they are. And in this version, their mansoleum of a mansion is planted in Central Park. Huh? Cousin It is seen in passing, and Grandmama (Jackie Hoffman) is the most annoying character on Broadway in many seasons.

But still: the audience wants to see this show. It various flaws will matter not, I think, to the average theatergoer. No Tony’s for the show, book or score unless the committee takes one of Grandmama’s potions before voting. But the actors will be nominated, and that should give it some help. My guess is “The Addams Family” runs for as long as Lane and Neuwirth can stand it, or need the paycheck.

And they are the pleasures of seeing the show. Lane is full of shtick. Neuwirth is quintessential Morticia even though they haven’t given her enough to do. You really have to wait into Act 2 to see Neuwirth, the former star of “Chicago,” show her stuff. She’s worth the price of admission.

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