News Column

Broadway Across America series gets creepy and kooky with 'The Addams Family' musical

June 20, 2013


June 20--Gomez Addams isn't a vampire or a ghost or a ghoul, but he is an ageless and indelible character. First rendered by the cartoonist Charles Addams in 1938, Gomez, along with the rest of his comically macabre clan, got a TV show (and, for the first time, a first name) in 1964. Since then he's been a staple of TV sit-coms, variety shows and cartoons, Hollywood movies, video games and, most pertinent at the moment, a touring Broadway musical that visits the Keller Auditorium from Tuesday through the end of the month.

Gomez always is passionate and debonair, charming despite his outre tastes. But depending on when you first made his acquaintance, you may think of him as looking like John Astin, or Raul Julia, or Tim Curry, or Nathan Lane.

Jesse Sharp doesn't bring such a familiar face to the role in this touring production, but he doesn't see that as any disadvantage.

"When the curtain goes up and people see us in character, they're just really excited to see the Addams Family. As long as we do justice to these characters, they're going to enjoy the show. So it's not so much about my interpretation of the character. It's more a matter of my performance and whether I'm bringing the right exuberance, playfulness and passion -- and if my mustache looks good."

Though Sharp has performed in touring musicals before, his background is more in rock'n'roll, improv comedy and straight theatrical acting. In fact, when he auditioned for a role in "The Addams Family" musical, he'd been away from New York for awhile and was instead back in his native Southern California or working at such regional outposts as the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

And, come to think of it, that might not be bad preparation for being Gomez.

"I've played a fair amount of Shakespearean clowns, as well as Shakespearean dramatic roles, and there is something about this character that benefits from that experience," Sharp says. "Gomez definitely is over-the-top, incredibly sincere, and he has no self-doubt. He's a lot more like a Shakespeare character than you'd imagine. He even runs around town with a sword!"

Shakespeare comparisons, however, hardly were what greeted the show on Broadway. The New York Times' Ben Brantley called the show a "tepid goulash of vaudeville song-and-dance routines, Borscht Belt jokes, stingless sitcom zingers and homey romantic plotlines that were mossy in the age of 'Father Knows Best.'" The New Yorker's John Lahr complained that the show missed the essence of Charles Addams' cartoons: an inversion of normalcy starring "a ghoulish tribe of sadists and malcontents, intended to tease the notion of American prosperity and the cult of the perfect nuclear family."

As Lahr put it "Addams's family members believed that they were normal. That was the joke. From the first beats of the musical, however, the characters we see onstage know that they're not. They're in on the joke, and the joke is all there is: Most of the evening is spent on endless illustration of the family's evident pathological characteristics. This is vamping, not storytelling."

Yet, the show was a big seller and played for a year and a half on Broadway. Sharp says the show gives audiences what they come for.

"In our version, there's an acknowledgment that we do understand that we're not normal," he says. "Other than that, though, I think it plays very similar to the TV show.

"And it has evolved so much from when it was first staged in Chicago (in 2009) and even from when it was on Broadway. They've simplified the plot and made the production a little less about the effects. The first tour, with Douglas Sills as Gomez, got much better reviews around the country when it went out. And I know that when I signed on for this tour, I thought 'This doesn't seem like the show I read about early on'.

"I think, ultimately, it is what it sets out to be. It's a crowd-pleasing musical. Its aim is to make people laugh and have fun."

-- Marty Hughley


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