Musicals with Cheese #113 The Addams Family Transcript

The original post for this episode can now be found here.

Transcriptions by: Masha Latvinava

The Addams Family Musical – Episode #113 – October 29, 2020

Jess: Hello, I'm Jesse McAnally.

Andrew: I am Andrew DeWolf.

Brianna And I'm Brianna Jones.

Jess: And welcome to Musicals with Cheese, a podcast where I try to get Andrew to like musical theater and we've got a returning guest - in fact, the most returning guest. The unofficial third host of this show, you might say. It is incredible, we're always so –

Andrew: Soon to be one of the only two hosts.

Jess: But also, he is joining a club today. He is entering the Five Timers Club today. It is Brent Black.

Andrew: Is it actually? Is it actually five times?

Jess: Yes.

Brent Black: Wow. That's - I'm so flattered. No wait, let's count. We did La La Land, Matilda, Chess. This will be – well, we haven't said it yet, but I imagine people know if they've read the thing. But what was the other one?

Jess: We had the trivia contest, which was a full episode.

Andrew: Oh right, yeah. Remember when we did trivia episodes? My goodness.

Brent Black: I mean, the thing is... I still say I decided to come in with medium difficulty questions, thinking ‘I don't want to be that asshole that's like, how many hairs are on Sondheim's ass?’, you know, whatever.

Andrew: It’s not... he waxes.

Brent Black: Yes. In mostly 3/4 time. Pluck two three.

Andrew: Of course.

Brent Black: Anyway. Yeah, five times. That's amazing. I'm flattered.

Jess: Yes. And he will be getting a gift for that. Like, we will be sending him a little gift of the Five Timers Club.

Brent Black: Amazing, amazing. It's such an honor. And I'm excited to do this one. This seasonal one.

Jess: No, no, no. We're honored to have you on. This was actually a Patreon vote that we had this week. So, this was decided by the patrons and Brent is one of the patrons, so it is it suits the situation very well. So, Brent, what are we talking about this week?

Brent Black: We are talking about The Addams Family, the musical. Is that the official name? It's The Addams Family musical, but I'm not sure. Something like that.

Andrew: Cue the music, Bree.

(When You’re An Addams plays)

Jess: “The Addams Family is a musical comedy with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.” Man, who are these people? Like, usually I know the names of the book writers at least, but no. “The show is based on The Addams Family characters created by Charles Addams and his single-panel gag cartoons, which depict a ghoulish American family with an affinity for all things macabre. Although numerous films and television adaptations of the Addams’ cartoons exist, the musical is the first stage show based on the characters. It is also the first show produced by Elephant Eye Theatricals. After a tryout in Chicago in 2009, the musical opened on Broadway in April 2010. The original cast featured Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia. The production closed on December 31, 2011, a revised national tour of North America began in September of 2011.” And yeah, that's basically the sparknotes things of what we're going to talk about, but now it's out the way, you get a good basic backstory. So, Brent - you had some thoughts about this before we even decided we were doing this.

Brent Black: I did, indeed. And the thing is that I lived in New York City in 2010. And even though - as we were talking about before we started recording - even though I have an off-Broadway show that was panned by the New York Times in that same year, I was still a snob not long out of grad school with my opinions. And I heard Addams Family wasn't great and I thought, (voice of snobby Brent Black in 2010) “well, of course it's not. It's a terrible property to adapt for the following reasons - ” And grad school in the arts really makes snobs and jerks of people. And I've spent 12 years trying to become more of a non-dick about it. But, so yeah, the thing is that I began to listen to the album almost with that smug kind of... the way you watch the room or the way - you know what I mean, you watch something that you know is bad. And weirdly, I now have this strange situation where, yeah, I don't think it's amazing, certainly not the Broadway version that I am more familiar with. But I have an affinity for it almost in the way that like, if you're in a musical that's not all that great, but you hear the songs over and over again, you play a part, it's like it's got a special place in your heart, and it almost gets a slight positive tilt. In a nostalgic sense, because of that. Even if it really ain't the best thing ever. So that's my starting point. But I did get a chance to experience the surprisingly revised tour version of the show. And so, I will have some thoughts on the rewriting process, which I find endlessly fascinating.

Jess: We're gonna put a pin in that because this is an interesting show, specifically because it was a financial success despite being a critical failure. They went full Frank Wildhorn here. But I want to hear Andrew’s general opinion - both of your general opinions. What is your relationship with The Addams Family before this musical? What is your connection? Is it the 90s films? Is it the TV show?

Andrew: I think the only Addams Family I've ever seen is the movie. The - I think it's the 90s movie. Not the not the recent movie. I have not seen that. I've only seen the one movie and I watched it earlier this year.

Jess: You didn’t see the sequel?

Andrew: No, I didn’t watch the sequel. I hear it’s really good. I thought the movie was okay? That's all I've had about The Addams Family until I watched this. Which I guess makes it a little strange because I feel like it doesn't fit The Addams Family? But maybe that's just the movie that I've seen, and it just doesn't have that tone and the rest of The Addams Family property is totally fitting of this, but this... It just didn't really feel like The Addams Family to me. I watched the tour version though.

Jess: How do you think, Brent?

Brent Black: Um, yeah, there's a lot there that resonates with me. As a kid, my dad loved The Munsters. And, you know, reruns of The Munsters and The Addams Family were both on TV. So, I saw a little bit of The Addams Family TV show, but I remember more vividly the movie, which would have come out when I was seven. But as a college and older-than-college person, I really got into the movies - particularly to Jess' point, the sequel Addams Family Values. I think that's the best - or at the very least, my favorite encapsulation of the concept of the Addams brought to life. Because the 60s TV show could not be quite as risqué or edgy as a single-panel comic strip in The New Yorker could be. I also own a book that's like a compendium of all of the Addams comics. And what I find interesting about the musical is that they only got the rights to the comics, and also - very late in the game - the TV show theme song. But basically just ba-ba-ba-bum. Like, not even the whole TV show theme song.

Andrew: I mean, do you have to have that though? I don't even know why you need the rights to it though. It's like four notes.

Brent Black: I mean, that's – yeah. I think that they probably - that's a good question. I'd love to know the story on that. I think that seven notes is, like, a court precedent that I've heard for “you've ripped off a song” or that could be total bullshit. But yeah.

Jess: Marvin Gaye and all that.

Brent Black: With that being said, you know... Oh, and let us not forget Addams Family Reunion. The straight-to-video, would-be pilot of a TV incarnation of The Addams Family starring an unfortunately melty Tim Curry as Gomez. And, just – it was really bad. Like, I love so-bad-it's-good. This was so bad, I couldn't. I couldn't. I mean, and not long into it.

Andrew: What? How do you mess up The Addams Family that bad?

Brent Black: Well, it's like this.

Jess: I don't think they messed up the family, though. I think they got the appeal of The Addams Family in a way that I think the musical didn't.

Brent Black: I guess I just feel like - And again, we're not reviewing Addams Family Reunion, but like, in the first 10 minutes, fully half of that is the mailman being terrorized by a mailbox with a tongue that wants to kill him. And then way too long, way too much runtime in that first 10 minutes is Lurch playing the violin. And the joke is that it's shrill and he's not playing it very well. But the joke goes on so long that now you're mad you have to hear this terrible violin. And then it keeps going. Anyway -

Andrew: Yeah. I mean, if you're doing something bad on purpose, it's still bad.

Brent Black: Yeah, exactly, exactly. It's like, this isn't a horror movie where you're trying to like, “Oo, there's tension. Oo, these shots are getting me all spooked.” It's like, “I hate you, Lurch.” But anyway. So, to your point, Andrew, I do feel like on the one hand, you can't really definitively say that something isn't “Addams enough” based on the TV show and the movies, because the comic is the real source. But on the other hand, the comic leaves out so much storytelling, they didn't even have names until the TV show. I mean, I'm of two minds about it. I think that they took liberties, but also I think that so many things I like about The Addams Family that had been brought to life on TV and then the movies were... different.

Andrew: Now, having not seen any of the TV show, and again, only like one of the movies - I'm probably wrong, but my interpretation of The Addams Family is they are like the nega sitcom family?

Jess: Yes. And I wanted to bring that up. I wanted to bring that up because I recently just - prepare for this, because - and I’m also doing a lot of work. I just binged the entire Addams Family original show.

Brianna Wow.

Jess: Yeah, that's actually - it's not long. It's like sixty episodes.

Brent Black: Two seasons, three seasons?

Jess: It's like two seasons, but seasons meant something different back then.

Andrew: Still. Still a lot of free time that I don't have.

Jess: And basically, the best Addams Family stories run like SpongeBob and Squidward, if that makes sense.

Brent Black: Wow. Educate me, prof. I love this. I love this comparison.

Jess: Where the Addams Family aren't exactly dumb, but they always think they're helping and people want them around, when we see through the point of view of the average sitcom characters that they're really being tortured. And the joy is: these clueless, positive people that just like dark shit are just like, “Well, isn't that crazy?” Like, a perfect one is the next-door neighbors move in and they're just like, “What's going on? I don't like this. Who are we renting to? We’re renting to these crazy people and they won’t let us out of their lease.” And the Addams are like, “Man, they're on their honeymoon. We want to help ‘em. We gotta send them stuff.” So, it's like misunderstandings and situational comedy, but macabre-leaning.

Andrew: But it's also that the family themselves never fight with each other.

Jess: No. There’s no one fighting ever.

Andrew: And this whole musical is based on family infighting. And that's why I feel like it really just doesn't work.

Brent Black: Yeah, I think that like, you know - as snobby me in 2010 said, it's really not a great property for a musical because the characters have something of a staticness about them. And in the movies, they really had to have an external plot going on that moved the characters around, rather than the characters being the ones that are driving the story, because they're just so content to have their weird little lives of playing with guillotines and having really hot - if apparently very scary or bondage-filled - sex, whatever they do. I'm so happy for you. And I'm talking about Gomez and Morticia.

Jess: I mean, now Fester and the moon.

Andrew: They're great.

Brent Black: Yes, well, and we'll get to that. But you know. I really have thought so much, especially now, now watching two different versions of this musical, having already known the album. And also being a musical theater writer who has spent the better part of the last three years adapting what is not a good property for a musical. I'm obsessed with the ways they got it right and the ways that it seems like they had to shoehorn this property into the musical theater format. And the question I'm left with that we can explore as we go along is, did it have to be this way? Is there a better Addams musical? Or is this actually - if Dr. Strange went through all the multiverses - about as good as it could be, while still being a musical and The Addams Family?

Andrew: I feel like they could have done better. Well, I do.

Jess: Well, it’s the satire becoming the thing it's satirizing. Like, it becomes sitcom nonsense.

Andrew: Yeah, it’s just a sitcom.

Brent Black: That's exactly - I wrote the word sitcom or sitcomy so many times in my notes. And you're right. Like, the whole concept is - and when you go back to the comics, right? It's like, regular heartwarming Americana turned on its head. Like mom and dad who think it's so cute that the kids believe in Santa Claus, “Aww they still believe in Santa”. What they're doing is they're creating a huge fire in the fireplace so when he comes down, he'll fucking die. That's the joke. But it's still like, oh, cute, regular people stuff with a dark twist. Or there's, you know, this great line. I think it's in Addams Family 1, the movie, where Wednesday wants to electrocute Pugsley in the electric chair. And, you know, Morticia’s like, “We have to go. We're late.” And they're like, “Oh, mom, can’t we just do it?” And she's like, “I said, No.” And like, clearly, it's fine that they want to electrocute each other, but they're late. And then finally Morticia’s like, “Okay”. Like, and it's beautiful because this is just mundane family stuff with that twist. And to your points - both of you - It feels like they just accidentally did the thing - I think I'm saying exactly what Jess just said. They did the thing that Addams Family has typically made fun of, which is so jarring.

Jess: Mhm. And the thing is, sometimes they get it right. And with this exact plot, even with this exact Wednesday-has-a-boyfriend plot, it could have worked. Because that is an outer interference coming into this world. And there's comedy to be had there. But the joke is always on the situational comedy: “Dad’s so stupid, dad doesn't know how to keep a secret” jokes and not on the “Oh, it's so dark and these people aren't used to it.” I think a better version of this story is the Hotel Transylvania films.

Brent Black: I haven't seen those. But how would you compare your perfect version of this to La Cage aux Folles/The Birdcage? The movie The Birdcage is an adaptation of the movie and musical La Cage aux Folles.

Jess: I mean, there's that side of it, but also, they could have just done a parody of that, to be honest.

Brent Black: Yeah, and as we'll get into, probably later, but it seems like they were setting up a La Cage thing of like, “Okay, we have to pretend to be normal to impress the family of this, you know, of the person our child loves”, and I went, “Okay, this is interesting”. I love Fester coming in with the football thing, and grandma’s a nurse, and Pugsley just came from Bible study. But they don't follow through on that. And I understand why they didn't - because you don't want the Addams Family to be trying to be regular people with the whole show. But, I feel like if you're going to set that up as the premise, and then drop it after two scenes, what was the point of “we’ll be normal”? You know?

Andrew: That already just doesn't work, though. Because I feel like The Addams Family don't see themselves as not normal.

J & Brent Black: Right.

Jess: And that's kind of the idea of being, like, they would never think that we're normal.

Andrew: Yeah. Like why? Why is Wednesday self-aware of her family in a way that nobody else in the family is? It seems odd.

Brent Black: I mean, that I actually can buy. It's incongruous with what we've seen from The Addams Family, but like, think about when you suddenly realize right before going off to school, “Oh my god, my family is such a bunch of weirdos and they are so set in their ways they don't realize...” Like, I can actually buy that part of it. It makes me sad for the Wednesday we don't get to see. Like, the OG Wednesday. But they had to have some kind of conflict to set the ball in motion. It just - I don't know.

Andrew: I feel like you already have the conflict without even doing that, though. Wednesday's bringing her boyfriend back and the parents come to. That's it. And then the parents - and then nobody gets along. That's the whole - that's it. That's all you needed. You don't need them to pretend and Wednesday to get all upset because her family’s so weird. You know? I don't know, this is just a basic sitcom stuff that they didn't have to do.

Jess: I mean, yeah. Or it could be like the boyfriend totally is into it. And gets it? Kind of like a Debbie from Addams Family Values where they kind of fit in pretty okay. And the parents are the big X factor in there.

Andrew: Yeah, that's all you need is the parents freaking out. And then the parents learn something from it because they're like, “Wow, these guys actually are weird, but they all get along so well and we don't because - ”

Jess: Right. That could have been the message, like, “These weirdos get along and we don’t”. Yeah, there is a version of this that could work.

Brent Black: Yeah, I'm very old school about musical theater structure. I feel like if you're not going to break new ground and do some really interesting Sondheimy thing, then you just need... And you know, we're talking about a musical comedy, not a song cycle, not a stepping-on-butter-and-rubbing-it-on-your-face performance art thing. I feel like there has to be a character with a specific thing they want and the journey of trying to get it. Or a group protagonist that all want something related, kind of like Spelling Bee or Chorus Line, where everyone's connected by a similar want but there's different reasons for it. And yes, this is an ensemble piece, it's required by the size of the cast of the source material. But you just get caught up in “Who wants something?” Like, Fester loves the moon. Does he have a plan? Grandma? No plan.

Andrew: Well, he does. He's gonna rocket to it.

Brent Black: Pugsley actually probably is the most active character.

Andrew: In like, a bad way, though. He's like the villain.

Brent Black: And yet, you know - spoilers. And yet, ends up being, let us say, helping the story along in ways that are constructive. But yeah, I just, you know, I'd love to see that other musical that could have been better. And, you know, in general, I want to know what it felt like to make this. Because my sense - and I could be dead wrong - but my sense of the score is that it was money? I don't know Andrew Lippa. He's very, very talented.

Andrew: It was money.

Brent Black: But like, honestly, I've thought about Jeanine Tesori doing all of these really avant-garde interesting things, and then being handed Shrek. And the differences between –

Andrew: Or Ariel's adventure, The Little Mermaid 3.

Brent Black: This is what I'm saying. I feel like the kind of work that you produce when it's just for money - even if you're extremely talented - I feel like there's a... You can just sense something in it that isn't quite as passionate as you know, John & Jane [John & Jen] was a thing that - I think that's what it's called - was a thing that Lippa wrote that even though it was much more of a proto, like he was much younger, there's passion in it. And I don't know any other way to say it. Like it just feels like - The music and lyrics feel like they were a very well-crafted. Very, you know, full-of-effort and -discipline job. Just a job, you know. I think the book was better but in its comedy - like in the one-liners and the laugh lines - Really a lot of really great one-liners, which makes sense. That's kind of what the Addams do, you know? Like, disconnected punchlines. But the big picture of the story and the structure - Just off the bat, problems. Weaknesses. Anyway.

Jess: Now that we're 22 minutes in, I realize we have not even explained to what the story of this musical is. Andrew, please do the honor.

Andrew: Okay. I mean, there's not a lot. Do I start from the from the top here? Fester summons a bunch of old Addams or something. I don't really get this whole part. There's like a bunch of Addams family ghosts that are just lurking around.

Brent Black: Okay, so - I'm being this asshole. Once a year they gather in the graveyard. They gather the family and they call out all the ghosts of the whole Addams family clan. And usually apparently they just have some kind of small ceremony and the ghosts go back in. But this time Fester’s like - I wrote down the exact wording. He's like, “You ghosts can’t go back because I have magical power. And you can't go back into the crypt where I guess it's good to be until love triumphs.” Okay.

Andrew: It doesn't make any sense.

Brent Black: Nope.

Andrew: It just makes no sense at all.

Brent Black: It’s a real half-baked way for a Broadway show to have a chorus of dancers and singers, which is the thing Broadway shows feel compelled to do.

Andrew: Well, they also have very small character acts for all the ghosts.

Brent Black: Yeah, yeah. Because like, one's a soldier, one's a bride, one's a flapper girl, one's a caveman, etc.

Andrew: They're all stereotypes of some kind. And if the idea is like –

Jess: I like the ghosts. I like them. I'm glad they're there.

Brent Black: The idea of like a military man in The Addams Family? Like, having that weird, genetic, like, there's a fanfic I would skim. I would take a look.

Andrew: I mean, I don't see any reason why the Addams wouldn't partake in the military. I think that –

Jess: They they'd be great at it. They'd be, like, the best. They'd have so many ears, like, attached to their keyrings.

Brent Black: The interrogator.

Andrew: They might get discharged for being too gruesome, honestly.

Jess: And only if they were in any other country but America. If they're fighting for any other country, maybe. America? Nah.

Brent Black: Yes. Oh, yikes. Enhanced interrogation techniques.

Andrew: The Addams Family mercenaries.

Brent Black: Sorry to interrupt your story - your explanation of the story.

Andrew: I have not even gotten anywhere so far, so it’s all good.

Jess: Continue, Andrew, please.

Andrew: Oh, yeah, yeah, sure. Um, where are we going?

Brent Black: Fester has said “Not until love triumphs can you go back into the crypt.” That's where we're at.

Andrew: Yes, and Fester is of course talking about the moon, but, I guess Wednesday is also in love. And that's where the real plot is. Wednesday has a boyfriend who is, like...

Jess: Normal.

Andrew: Seems normal on the face.

Jess: He's from Cincinnati. You know, like, that's normal if I've ever –

Andrew: Yeah, everyone in Cincinnati is normal. So, they come over to their house with the boyfriend's parents - who are also normal, but they have their own emotional problems - and the Addams family gets all upset with each other because they ruin everything for Wednesday, and Wednesday runs away and then comes back. The end.

Jess: Happy ending. All right. Now, there's some specific differences I'm going to talk about. Specifically in the Broadway version, where their dropped subplot –

Andrew: Which I did not watch.

Jess: No. And out of fairness to all the creators, I try to show Andrew the best, “best version” of each thing we do. I try to not just show him the garbage version to laugh at, you know, like “look at how bad they did”. So, we showed him the most recent version, the US tour version. But in the Broadway version, there's just a lot of plot cul-de-sacs, specifically one with the boyfriend's father and octopus. Or tentacle monster.

Andrew: Excuse me, what?

Brent Black: I think they have a pet giant squid.

Jess: Yes.

Andrew: I mean, that makes sense.

Jess: And he, like, discovers love because he falls in love with being held by the squid. And there's an entire song number about it.

Andrew: This doesn't seem necessary.

Brent Black: No. The revision of “Mal just rediscovers love because he sees the crossbow and the apple thing and then talks to Fester about it” is a very efficient way to not have to have him dragged into the squid chamber and then come out with suction cup marks all over himself and sing a love song about how he rediscovered his own heart and now he's ready to love his wife because of a squid, like...

Jess: Tentacle porn saves the day, everyone.

Brent Black: But Andrew, I wrote a note very, very similar to what you just said, thinking “Fester’s in love with the moon?” They must have been sitting around having Chinese food, smoking a bowl going, “What the fuck do we do with Fester?” And he's like, “Okay, well, maybe he... Maybe he has invented a new, absorbent material for mucus. I don't know.” “Maybe he wants to breed hamsters.” “Maybe he's in love with the moon.” And they all just laugh hysterically.

Jess: “That's the funniest thing ever.”

Brent Black: Exactly.

Jess: Well, I can offer a little bit of elaboration here.

Brent Black: Please do.

Jess: Because I just recently did the entire bingeing of The Addams Family. So, the way that Fester recharges in that show is going out and moonbathing because he has – Addams’ in general have a special relationship with the moon. So that's where he recharges. Because the entire electricity of the Addams’ house is run out of Fester, because when you put a light bulb in his mouth... Electricity. He can light up the light bulb.

Andrew: Wait, are you being serious?

Jess: I’m serious. This is a thing. So, that is probably their jumping off point. Like, he has this relationship with the moon, he recharges that way, he wants to fuck the moon.

Brent Black: Well, and I think what it shows is again, the adaptation of a movie into a musical I wrote is nowhere in the league in any measure of The Addams Family. But I do speak from experience when I say you really have to pick and choose which characters actually have an arc and which just have a three-part bit. Like, a thing they present, a thing they present again, and then a different thing. It's just a slight resolution. The end. But Fester has the whole moon thing and I guess the arc is he's in love with it, he does a cute charm song with it, then he flies up to it. Pugsley’s whole thing - You know, like, they all have arcs and the way that they are... The way that they gave everyone a little journey is kind of an admirable noble effort, but I don't know that every character needed that. I guess grandma doesn't really have an arc and it's, like, thank God.

Jess: She used to have a pointless song in the Broadway version, Let's Not Talk About Anything Else But Love. Which I'm like, “Why is this here?”

Brent Black: Oh, and the reprise and then Mal is like, “I don't like talking about love.” And then Nathan Lane’s like, “Yes, you do. And also, chocolate. You must love chocolate.” Anyway, yeah.

Jess: Okay, Brent and I might get into a little debate here, now that we brought up Nathan Lane into this. I think he is a terrible casting choice for Gomez. I think he’s a horrible miscast there.

Brent Black: Okay, this as opposed to –

Jess: He works as the policeman in The Addams Family Values and that's it.

Brent Black: As opposed to Douglas Sills?

Jess: I think he does better – or, Douglas Sills does better because he feels more close to what Gomez is to me, which is charming and suave, where Nathan Lane is just Nathan Lane, just doing his usual deliveries. And I don't know what it is, but I'm getting real sick of Nathan Lane kind of doing the same thing every time he's in a stage show. Have you seen his production of Angels in America where he's Roy Cohn?

Brent Black: What is he like? (sings In Timon’s voice) “I can see what’s happening and they don’t have a clue. These angels in America - ” I can’t say the thing I wanna say, but go on.

Jess: What is it? “I wish I was an octopus. I wanna be an octopus.”