The Addams Family is performed by ArtsEd third years at the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Theatre, London until 7 February.
Star rating: 3 stars ***
There’s a saying in racing, “You can’t go without the horse”, which means that however wonderful a jockey you are, if the beast you’re riding is a selling-plater you aren’t going to win the Derby.
That and “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, came to mind watching the best efforts of some talented ArtsEd youngsters bogged down by this leaden, mirthless musical based on the Charles Addams cartoon macabres which spawned a popular 1960s TV series and 1991 movie.
It took until 2010 for this musical version, with book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (who wrote a much better one for Jersey Boys) and score by Andrew Lippa, to see Broadway, where it ran for 722 performances and was a commercial if not critical success.
All the more surprising, then, that nobody had the nerve to bring it to the West End and its low-key 2014 English premiere in suburban Sutton, followed by another week in provincial Portsmouth, led to an outing last August at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that met with mixed reviews.
With that chequered history, this is quite a challenge for ArtsEd but under Gary Sefton’s sure-handed direction aided by spectacular choreography and glorious special effects, they make as good a fist of it as is humanly possible.
The guys and gals have plenty of fun with the ghoulish make-up, bizarre hairstyles and wild costumes in what is a four-star interpretation of a two-star script and three-star score.
It gives plenty of opportunities for a large cast to work well together which, with agents on hand and eager to sign up potential stars, has to be a big part of putting on these shop windows.
And although ArtsEd’s dazzling Crazy For You a couple of weeks earlier was much easier to love, The Addams Family at least introduces a five-star talent in Omari Douglas and his wonderful creation Lurch, the lugubrious butler with a brilliantly funny walk, deep voice and a stage presence that makes you follow him wherever he goes.
Douglas is not the only one with a future: Leah Barbara West has classical poise as Morticia, pointing her lines well and dancing a wicked tango; Nathan Elwick has charm, energy and a likeable singing voice as Gomez; and Matthew Chase, as their short-trousered, not-quite-all-there son Pugsley, makes the most of his Act I solo ‘What If’.
As the ‘normals’, Mairi Barclay, David Burnip and Patrick O’Sullivan make their parts work for them, while ‘The Moon and Me’ is a clever ensemble piece that shows off Tom Bayliss’ worryingly weird Fester to good effect.
I suspect this is a show that is more fun to perform than to watch. I certainly hope so, although the exchange between Alice and Gomez: “Do you have a little girls’ room?”/“We used to but we let them all go”, did make me laugh. If only there had been a few more like that…
The five-strong band led by Caroline Humphris does all that is required with Lippa’s serviceable but hardly memorable music, Nathan M Wright choreographs a busy, vivacious troupe and Katie Lias gets full marks for her imaginative set. But it just isn’t my sort of show.
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ArtsEd London – Crazy For You – Review