One of my biggest gripes with musicals these days is that all too often the characters seem straight out of cartoons. I mean, who wants to watch a show filled with tired stereotypes spouting hackneyed dialogue? (I'm looking at you, Rock of Ages.)
Which is why I never dreamed I'd wish a show would be more cartoonish. But that's what I was thinking at The Addams Family, the 2010 Broadway musical playing at the Buell Theatre in Denver through July 1.
When the Addams Family first appeared 74 years ago in a single-panel cartoon in the New Yorker, it was an ice cold blast of fresh air: an odd, ghoulish clan that was the antithesis of everything the American family stood for in that ultraconformist era.
They lost some of that edge in the 1960s TV sitcom, but at least that show was good for a few guilty laughs. The pair of 1990s films regained much of that edge while keeping the humor.
Sadly, the musical has neither. This time around, the familiar characters are trying too hard to be normal instead of reveling in their weirdness. And the story itself is paper-thin, filled with contrived situations and plot holes so big, Lurch could jump a pogo stick through them.
In this version, Wednesday, the crossbow-wielding daughter of Gomez and Morticia, is 18 years old and hopelessly in love. The lucky boy is Lucas, a "normal" teen remarkable primarily for the fact that he has no discernible interests or personality whatsoever.
Wednesday knows that her family is "different," but for some unexplained reason she's eager to have their parents meet. But not so eager that she's willing to announce their plans to get married. Or at least she tells Gomez that they're getting married, but makes him promise not to tell Morticia. Which wouldn't be such a big deal except that Gomez has never kept a secret from Morticia. Which makes it really strange when after dinner, they play an old family game in which each person is supposed to reveal a secret they've never told anyone — as though everyone in the house is brimming with secrets.
It goes on like this for 2 1/2 hours. Lucas is eventually forced to prove his love for Wednesday. Does he do this by ridding himself of some bad habit or standing up for his fiancee in front of his parents? No, he does this by letting Wednesday shoot an apple off his head.
Oh, and then there's the hurricane, which traps Lucas' parents overnight in the Addams mansion, at least until the writers (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice of Jersey Boys fame) need the characters to go for a romantic stroll beneath the moon, at which point the hurricane disappears just as quickly — and conveniently — as it came.
It's not all bad. The Latin-infused pop score by Andrew Lippa (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) is reasonably catchy, and there are a few good gags. But for the most part, the cast seems bored, and it's left to the talented Douglas Sills, who plays Gomez, to do most of the heavy lifting in the humor department.
"My mother?" he says to Morticia when she recalls Grandma's arrival in their home. "I thought she was your mother!" A stupid line, maybe, but it made me laugh.
Hardcore fans of the films or even the old sitcom might find enough in the musical to keep them entertained. But it's a bad sign when the most lifelike characters in the piece are the ghosts that make up the ensemble.
The Addams Family
Through July 1, Tuesdays through Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th St., Denver, Tickets, $25 to $105; call 800/641-1222 or visit denvercenter.org for information.