Friday, April 16, 2010

The Addams Family

With its limp songs, unimaginative choreography and threadbare plot, The Addams Family should have been assigned to an early grave. But as H.L. Mencken so rightly observed, No one ever lost money underestimating the taste of the American public, and so although it has met with scathing reviews from critics, this new musical is a runway hit with audiences who are making it the hottest ticket in town.

Charles Addams, who created those macabre characters for The New Yorker Magazine, would hardly recognize them here. (He died in 1988 and should feel lucky.) Fans of the 1960s TV show, of which I was one (I even used to collect Addams Family bubble gum cards), are also likely to be disappointed. I was, although when the series’ familiar theme music filled the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre during the overture, “Buh-Da-Da-Dum,” my fingers -- and practically everyone else’s -- knew just what to do -- snap-snap. Unfortunately, that was the most fun part of the evening.

Too bad because the show is filled with gifted Broadway performers, my favorite of whom is the music director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell. Before the show started my friend Phil and I popped our heads over the railing of the orchestra pit to give her our best wishes. Phil has known Mary-Mitchell for decades, hailing from the same area of North Carolina as she does. I met her several years ago when I interviewed her for NCR about the humanitarian work she does as founder and director of ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty). I liked her instantly -- how could I not with her warmth, humor and down-to-earth personality? -- and respected her immensely as she told of her work helping underprivileged children in India, Africa and Florida find healing and expression through the arts. It was impressive to see her at work, and great that so many other people can as well. A woman conductor on Broadway is a rare bird, and it did my feminist soul good to see her leading the orchestra.

Other Broadway veterans are onstage, looking as if they’d rather be elsewhere but slugging it out, included Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Kevin Chamberlin and Jackie Hoffman.

At least they should be able to expect a paycheck for some time to come. The New York Times did a front-page article on Wednesday saying that in spite of the overwhelmingly poor reviews, the show sold $851,000 in tickets last weekend on top of a $15 million sales advance, “huge figures for a new Broadway run, and all but guaranteeing that it will be hard to snag a pair of good orchestra seats until fall.”

I certainly could have sold my press tickets last night if I had wanted to (which I won’t, of course, because it’s strictly against Drama Desk rules). While I was standing in front of the theatre waiting for Phil, a young man with a Scandinavian accent approached me with desperation in his voice and asked it my tickets were for sale. Maybe the NYPD should increase its presence around the theatre. This could get nasty.

All that enthusiasm -- from others -- helped keep me in my seat. Normally I would have been out the door at intermission with a show that banal, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I also had heard how bad the reviews were (I don’t read them until after I write mine) and didn’t want to miss something that would have been pointed out as especially appalling. For me, The Addams Family was a must-see just to determine how miserable it is.

Pretty miserable, it turns out.

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