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Casting ideal, material unreal in 'Addams Family'

Is it entertaining? Yes. Is it disappointing? Yes. "The Addams Family," the hotly anticipated musicalization of Charles Addams' bleakly irresistible cartoons, has survived a troubled tryout in Chicago to take its place as the season's only new family musical on Broadway.

The show looks fantastic - charming and dripping with ingenious cartoon grotesquerie. The casting - including Nathan Lane as a lovably ruthless Gomez, Bebe Neuwirth as a diabolically slinky Morticia and Kevin Chamberlin as a gracious nut ball of an Uncle Fester - is as close to ideal as imagination can dream up in the real world.

The problem - and it is no small problem - is the material, which, after some giddily twisted one-liners in the first act, burdens the larky darkness with gooey sentiment, a wearying plot and increasingly generic songs by Andrew Lippa that have little or nothing to do with the plot or characters.

Does this matter? Hey, the audience gets to snap fingers to the jingle from the TV show during the overture and the merchandise in the lobby boutique reflects first-rate dementia. But for those in love with Addams' dry sensibility, the trade-offs in banality may not be tolerable.

If you substitute ghouls for gays, the story (by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) is strikingly similar to the one in "La Cage Aux Folles." An unusual family attempts to appear conventional for the uptight parents (the overqualified Carolee Carmello and Terrence Mann) of the daughter's boyfriend. Here, love has confounded teenage Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez) with unseemly happy thoughts. Little brother Pugsley (Adam Riegler) fears she won't be around to torture him anymore. A chorus of dead ancestors haunts the creepy Central Park mansion, designed with huge swags of drapery and a libidinous squid in the cellar.

Lane, working hard in top comic form, is saddled with a "Sunrise / Sunset" ballad. Neuwirth, taking teensy steps in a gorgeous and goofy gown practically sewn into her knees, gets a tiny tango. Chamberlin executes a blissful aerial love ballet with the moon. Zachary James as Lurch, the butler, is a grand belching basso. Jackie Hoffman overplays to the gallery as ancient Grandma.

Jerry Zaks was hired as "creative consultant" after the tryout, supplementing the work of credited director-designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch. There is ample credit and blame to go around.


WHAT "The Addams Family"


WHERE Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St., Manhattan


INFO $51.50-$136.50; 877-250-2929; theaddams familymusical.com


BOTTOM LINE Terrific talent and designs, lame material.

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