Chicago Theater Review: THE ADDAMS FAMILY (Mercury Theater Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 8, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


With his typical topsy-turvy perversity, Charles Francis Addams might have been happy had the 2009 musical inspired by his sardonic New Yorker cartoons ended up as a “work in regress.” But happily for us, the opposite has occurred to this show about a ghoulish misfit clan haunting a Queen Anne brownstone in Central Park. Much has happened to and for this show after The Addams Family endured a pre-Broadway shakedown in Chicago. First, a rather sleazy first-act duet between creepshow parents Gomez and Morticia has been rightfully cut. Even more crucial, most of the second act, which was bogged down by boring ballads, has been rewritten. He may have been funnier than a Tea Party trivia game, but Nathan Lane, as Gomez, was saddled with unnecessary numbers which repeatedly psychoanalyzed and marriage-counseled his rebellious brood .

Karl Hamilton and Rebecca Prescott (center) play Gomez and Morticia, with (from left) Brennan Dougherty, Amanda Hartley, Jeff Diebold, Harter Clingman and Dara Cameron

Boasting a tightly catty script by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the now-finished product, revived with merry malevolence at Mercury Theater, is a vintage treat. L. Walter Stearns’ never-dull staging lets this perpetual celebration of “Opposites Day” run rich with fish-out-of-water humor and a few worthy truths before the characteristic “Move Toward The Darkness” finale. Still anti-social but not so polemical, The Addams Family is now a character-fueled comedy with the occasional special effect or physical gag suggested by Addams’ (in)famous cartoons (an overblown octopus scene has been exorcised from the musical as well).

Closely following the formula from You Can’t Take It With You (in which the Depression-era Sycamore eccentrics transform the conformist and miserable Kirbys), the Addamses’ outcast Bohemian/Goth lifestyle loosens up the repressed parents of a neurotically normal boy named Lucas Beineke, with whom daughter Wednesday has fallen in love. The macabre tribe, which infests a very spooky demesne in an unlit part of inner Manhattan, gathers their addlepated ancestors in order to deal with a home invasion: Sweet simpleton Lucas is bringing along his conventional parents for a dinner not soon forgotten.

Alice (Cory Goodrich, left) and Morticia (Rebecca Prescott)

The joke, of course, is that in this Bizarro-like world, screams replace sentiment, torture is a kind of caring, and death is the real deal they not only yearn for but want to share. Yet as much as the Addamses have their oddities (a mystery grandmother living in the dormers; a zombie butler; a bald uncle in love with the moon; a vampirish mother and nightmarish Latin dad whose bratty boy is crazy about explosives), the Beineke family have their own skeletons in the closet, bats in the belfry, and secrets dying to be exposed. “Full Disclosure” isn’t just a truth-or-dare game that the Grand Guignol/Edward Gorey family likes to play—it’s what happens by the end of the musical’s 145-minute death span.

Andrew Lippa’s serviceable songs prosecute the culture clash rather nicely, giving us a hilarious duet for Uncle Fester and a bouncing moon, an anthem for Morticia and the ancestors called “Just Around The Cor(o)ner,” and other felicitous eruptions and torrid tangos from the dark side.

Karl Hamilton’s smooth-tongued, oily-unctuous Gomez is a rhapsodic romantic, a hot-blooded Latin lover, a fiery libido compared to Rebecca Prescott’s ice-queen Morticia. Add to their cunning chemistry Harter Clingman’s gleeful Fester (our noxious narrator), Amanda Hartley’s decomposing Grandma, Dara Cameron’s spunky, crossbow-wielding Wednesday, Brennan Dougherty’s prankster Pugsley, and Jeff Diebold’s mostly muted Lurch.

Harter Clingman plays Uncle Fester, surrounded by the Ancestors

Henry McGinniss is richly ordinary as Lucas (who must learn to take risks for love), while Jason Grimm and Cory Goodrich make the Beineke parents much more complicated than their stereotypical stiffness suggests. Pancake monstrosities, the six Addams Ancestors provide all the backup that ghosts “live” for (there’s even a literal “skeleton crew” handling the lights).

As clever as this musical mash-up seems (with shout-outs to Bob Knuth’s wicked props, Brenda Didier’s chilly choreograph, Frances Maggio’s caricaturing costumes, and Nick Belley’s sepulchral lighting), I still think Paul Rudnick’s film versions provide the perfect Addams overkill. But hey, talk to the Thing…I mean, hand; you get song and dance here, the kind that didn’t kill vaudeville. And what an antidote the Addams are to today’s assorted delusional thinking, including the self-esteem movement, feel-good empowerment scams, and unorganized religion.

photos by Brett A. Beiner

The Addams Family
Mercury Theater Chicago
3745 North Southport Avenue
Wed at 7:30; Thurs at 3 and 7:30;
Fri at 8; Sat at 3 and 8; Sun at 3 and 7:30
ends on April 5, 2015
for tickets, call 773.325.1700 or visit

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit

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