Musical theatre and pitch-black humour are usually uneasy bedmates, but The Addams Family
tries to revel in both, and succeeds more often than it should. The creators made the right choice in going back to the original Charles Addams cartoons, but it is impossible to erase the memories of the television series and movies -- the watered-down versions linger in the shadows in a ghastly, ghostly way. There are wonderful dark moments -- Wednesday pulverizes a Disney songbird during "I'm Pulled in a New Direction," and the hilarity and horror mingle in a very satisfying way -- mixed and matched with big glitzy production numbers, but it doesn't all gel until the second act. As soon as the pandering to what is assumed that a musical comedy audience wants is discarded, it gets weird, dark, unabashedly romantic and utterly entrancing.
Basing an evening's entertainment on single-frame cartoons from 1958 (and somewhat intellectual ones at that -- the Addams Family first appeared in The New Yorker
, not the mainstream Sunday funnies) offers the opportunity for lots of one-liners but not much in the way of plot. Douglas Sills as Gomez and Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia are masterful at sliding lethal knife-sharp quips into their dialogue and songs, smiling deadpan and innocently while they pause for the audience to laugh and whisper, "Did they really say that?" The plot, the main one lifted wholesale from La Cage Aux Folles
, is improbably ludicrous and doesn't really pay off until the very end -- and then only because of Sills and Gettelfinger's theatrical skills.
But the plot is just an excuse for a series of set pieces and musical numbers. The show stops the first time when Patrick D Kennedy as Pugsley sings plaintively, "What if she never tortures me anymore?/How would I manage?/What if she never nails my tongue/To the bathroom floor?/What if she walks away/Leaving me a-okay,/Hiding each power tool/Why would she be so cruel?" Hilarious and heartbreaking; a remix would make a perfect anthem for 2am at the Black Eagle.
Gettelfinger dazzles (and just how do those spectacular breasts stay contained in such little fabric during a dance number? The costume designer should be running seminars for drag queens and pop stars prone to wardrobe malfunctions) with a big number (complete with this kickline: "When I'm feeling uninspired/Or I need a little spree/I'm reborn knowing/death is just around the corner/coming after me") and a delicious sight-gag finale.
But the best number belongs to Blake Hammond, as Uncle Fester, who has the thankless task of functioning as narrator whenever the show wanders too far -- maybe it's fleeing -- from the main plotline. His love song "Moonlight" is done simply but magically, with simple special effects that elicited gasps. There wasn't a dry eye in the house -- though it was an even split between tears of empathy and tears of laughter.
Dashing Douglas Sills (http://fabmagazine.com/story/spooky-kooky-and-romantic)
is a solidly sexy presence throughout. He manages to tie the evening together with a stirring rendition of "Let's Live Before We Die" that gives the show a heartwarming if charmingly off-kilter finale. And the sizzle of Gomez and Morticia's final tango makes -- like all good musicals should -- one believe again in love.
The show as a whole is entertaining and can be enjoyed as an evening of song, dance and glitz. But themes of tolerance are stated bluntly by Morticia when she quips, "What is normal? What is normal for the spider is a calamity for the fly." And the sub-theme of discarding inhibitions is not subtle -- how delightful creepy to hear a North York audience exiting a theatre humming "Move towards the darkness and smile."
The Addams Family runs till Sun, Nov 27 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5050 Yonge St. dancaptickets.com