TODAY'S PAPER
49° Good Afternoon
49° Good Afternoon
EntertainmentTheater

It's time to pay a call on 'The Addams Family'

Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane in a scene

Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane in a scene from "The Addams Family." Credit: Handout

As Wednesday Addams warns her beau in the Broadway musical "The Addams Family," opening Thursday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, "Don't analyze me. It's a deep, dark hole, and you don't wanna go there."

And yet through 50 years of New Yorker cartoons, two live-action TV series, two animated series, two theatrical features, a direct-to-DVD movie and now this, we do wanna go there. We love to visit that family of ghoulish glee, who tip steaming liquid from the top of their Gothic mansion over Christmas carolers below, or urge vehicles on a winding road to pass their car as an unseen tractor-trailer rounds the curve. Patriarch Gomez Addams lights up with happiness - "Darling!" - as he sees his corpse-like bride, Morticia, sewing little baby booties . . . with four legs.

It's not that we secretly wish to be homicidal, or to have six-limbed children. Hopefully. We're just responding to the Bizarro World mirror image in which dark is light and bad is good. The extreme juxtaposition throws into high relief the sayings and conventions of everyday life, the irony awakening us to the banality of our words - and, by extension, our lives.

But there's something else. In all their incarnations, the Addamses are a loving, well-functioning nuclear family - the Brady Bunch gone Goth. And as Andrew Lippa, the new musical's composer, notes about the caroler cartoon, one of Charles Addams' most famous, the steaming vat "is being tipped, but there's not a single drop of it emerging yet. So it's only the suggestion of something happening - nothing malicious actually happens. I think that's a really important point. It would stop being funny if they actually tipped the vat."

So, we won't tip the vat. But we will tip our hat to these four iterations of the family Addams:

THE NEW YORKER CARTOONS

Charles Addams began illustrating for the magazine in 1932, and six years later drew the first cartoon of what would become the macabre clan - a pale, beautiful, black-haired woman in a tomblike, cobweb-filled old mansion, listening deadpan (so to speak) as a vacuum-cleaner salesman gives his spiel. Soon she was joined by a husband, two kids, a grandma, an uncle and a towering butler - all unnamed until the 1964 TV show.

Addams, whose "Addams Family" cartoons make up only a small portion of his output, continued drawing for The New Yorker until his death in Manhattan in 1988, at age 76.

'THE ADDAMS FAMILY'

(ABC, 1964-66)

The mother lode of Addamsania, starting immediately with composer Vic Mizzy's memorable theme (snap! snap!). It's the place where the Addamses got their names: Gomez (played by John Astin, whom Charles Addams gave a choice between that or the first name Repelli); Morticia (1950s film star and Oscar nominee Carolyn Jones); Uncle Fester (former child star Jackie Coogan, who'd played the titular role in Charlie Chaplin's 1921 classic "The Kid"); Grandmama (Blossom Rock, older sister of musical star Jeanette MacDonald), originally Morticia's mother, but later apparently Gomez's; butler Lurch (Ted Cassidy); and children Wednesday and Pugsley (Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax; Addams' first suggestion for the boy was Pubert, which surfaced as the baby's name in the 1993 movie "Addams Family Values").

The series also gave us the disembodied hand called Thing and Cousin Itt, a short, shaggy creature that looks like a walking, 4-foot-tall wig. Each has a cameo in the new musical, which opens with a passage from the famous theme.

'THE ADDAMS FAMILY'

(1991)

'ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES'

(1993)

Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black") directed these two darkly comic hit movies that were more inspired by the original cartoons than by the '60s sitcom. Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston starred as Gomez and Morticia, with child actress Christina Ricci enjoying a breakout role as the dour Wednesday. (Asked at a Halloween event in the sequel why she isn't wearing a costume, she gives an eerily straightforward reply: "I'm a homicidal maniac. They can look like anybody.") Jimmy Workman, who discontinued acting, played her brother. Christopher Lloyd was Fester, Carel Struycken (the mysterious giant from "Twin Peaks") played Lurch, and Grandmama was Judith Malina in the first movie and Carol Kane in the second.

Nathan Lane, who plays Gomez on Broadway, appeared as a police desk sergeant in "Addams Family Values," one of many stars who popped up in cameos.

'THE ADDAMS FAMILY'

(Broadway musical)

If backstage reports are to be believed, the joyfully macabre goings-on onstage in the new show starring Lane and Bebe Neuwirth mask the bubble, bubble, toil and trouble behind it. During out-of-town tryouts at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago late last year, the acclaimed Jerry Zaks took over as director from Broadway newcomers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, who were relegated to providing "input." And word kept leaking out of Neuwirth's frostiness toward co-star Lane, and dissatisfaction with her role as it was developing.

The two made nice in an interview with New York Magazine, where Neuwirth conceded the two "both have a nice, healthy dose of diva," but that "we also do really go together. You've got the little clown running around, and you have a very still, dry person. That's a fun pairing."

Lane is actually less "a little clown" in the show - which concerns a grown-up Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez) in love with a boy (Wesley Taylor) and bringing his parents (Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello) to meet her parents, Uncle Fester (a show-stealing Kevin Chamberlin), Grandmama (an equally show-stealing Jackie Hoffman), Pugsley (Adam Riegler) and Lurch (Zachary James) - than he is the enthusiastic patriarch who keeps chaos at bay.

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More Entertainment