Is there a more durable plot in American theater than the one where a guy from an exotic family meets a girl from a traditional clan (or vice versa) with comic consequences?
“Abie’s Irish Rose” became the longest-running play in Broadway history 90 years ago with this setup. From “You Can’t Take It With You” to “La Cage Aux Folles” to “Over the River and Through the Woods,” this story sustains many a show. So it is with “The Addams Family,” where the son of “normal” people seeks the hand of Wednesday Addams.
Except for high schools, nobody seems to have done this 2010 musical in Mecklenurg County. Theatre Charlotte sold out Friday and is all but sold out this weekend. That’s partly timing – no other major production is onstage now – and partly nostalgia for the ’60s TV comedy, which runs continuously in the infinite televised universe.
The musical pays homage to that genial, inoffensive show, which watered down Charles Addams’ macabre cartoons. (When you saw the family about to pour boiling oil on the heads of Christmas carolers in his drawings, you knew those kids were in for a literal meltdown.)
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The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice elicits that gentler mood, relying on sitcom-style humor and sudden, improbable reversals of character. Andrew Lippa’s sharp lyrics are wickedly funny, though his melodies evaporate like the fog around the Addams’ crypt. (Pitch problems, which plagued more that one cast member Friday, didn’t help.)
The plot is slender: The straight-laced Beineckes go to dinner at the Addams’ house, because their son has serious feelings for Wednesday. Gomez Addams conceals his daughter’s desire to marry from wife Morticia, which causes a rift when she inevitably finds out.
Director Jill Bloede realizes the humor works only if actors play these absurd emotions to the hilt. Kevin Roberge does that as the self-congratulatory, fustian-spouting Gomez. So does Jenn Grabenstetter as Mrs. Beinecke, whose sudden declaration of her true self becomes a showstopping moment.
Vito Abate reaches that level in Uncle Fester’s love song to the moon, and Aubrey Young (who’s way too young to play Morticia) does the same in her impulsive second-act tango.
But most of the others don’t go far enough toward lunacy; they’re trying to be real, when what we need is the surreal. This musical should crackle with mad electricity, like machinery bringing the monster to life in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. To glow warmly isn’t enough.
‘The Addams Family’
When: Through May 29 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Also 2:30 p.m. May 21.
Where: Theatre Charlotte, 501 Queens Road.
Running time: 135 minutes with one intermission.
Details: 704-376-3777 or theatrecharlotte.org.