TAMPA — The Addams Family has a strong opener. When You're an Addams introduces all the elements that must have made the show seem like a great idea: Gomez (Douglas Sills) and Morticia (Sara Gettelfinger) and their kooky, ghoulish clan from the iconic Charles Addams cartoons, sashaying to a salsa beat, quipping about their morbid taste for shadows and gloom. There are even a few bars from the theme song of the popular '60s sitcom at the top of the overture.
But things go downhill from there in the musical, which opened the 2011-12 Broadway series at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday. The main problem is the pivotal episode of the story, a romance between Morticia and Gomez's daughter, Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson), and Lucas Beineke (Brian Justin Crum). Wolfson and Crum aren't the culprits — her Wednesday is delightful as a crossbow-shooting ingenue in black tights — but whenever Lucas' parents, Mal and Alice Beineke (Martin Vidnovic and Crista Moore), are onstage, the show dies.
And the Beinekes are onstage all the time as dinner guests at the Addams' mansion in Central Park. The idea that the husband and wife from Ohio are "normal," compared with their exotic hosts, leads to some cringe-inducing scenes, such as Alice's transformation into a sex-crazed vamp after downing a potion spiked with "Acrimonium" during a party game number, Full Disclosure. An awful lot of energy is exhausted on the need of the couple from the heartland to renew their marriage, not exactly what fans of the Addams Family are interested in.
After the musical was panned on Broadway, the book (by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) and score (music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa) were revised for the tour, and veteran director Jerry Zaks was brought in. But the main change they made, creating some conflict between Gomez and Morticia, is kind of forced. It doesn't help matters that the first act is bogged down with exposition and Lippa's music is merely serviceable. Sills and Gettelfinger are consummate singer-actors, but they take off and soar in only a few songs, such as Morticia's weirdly upbeat ode to death, Around the Corner, and the duet Let's Live Before We Die. A ghostly chorus line of Addams ancestors seems to have lost something in the rewrite.
As the central relationships in The Addams Family sputter and misfire, Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond) steps in to steal the show whenever he has a chance. This "fat, bald person of no specific sexuality" gives an enchanting performance in Act 2. Dressed in an old-time striped bathing outfit, strumming a ukulele, he levitates during his serenade, The Moon and Me, a magical-looking number that bears the imprint of the original director-designers, Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch. Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) has a charmingly dark little kid's song, What If, and Lurch (Tom Corbeil) gets his laughs. Grandma (Pippa Pearthree) is a tiresome stock character, the crazy old lady.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.