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?
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.
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...
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.
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.”
Brent Black: I just feel like every Nathan Lane Angels In America joke’s – I just don't want to go any further than how far I've gone. But your point is that he's still being Nathan Lane in that.
Jess: Yes. And he's not Gomez and I feel like... With every other Gomez - even Tim Curry - you kind of forget he's Tim Curry and just accept that he's Gomez. Nathan Lane is just always gonna be Max Bialystock delivery-wise.
Brent Black: This is a very complicated situation because I think Douglas Sills and Nathan Lane - I think neither of them really fulfill what I want Gomez to be fully.
Jess: I’ll agree there.
Brent Black: The thing is, if we're doing a Broadway musical comedy - this is a given, right? If we are doing a Broadway musical comedy, having listened to the album of the Broadway show, having watched a bootleg of the Broadway show, and then watched Douglas Sills (for whom I have a lot of respect). It's kind of like what you get with Nathan Lane is bigger laughs on a lot of the punch lines that Sills just didn't seem to get why the line was funny. For instance, when Nathan Lane - In the opening number, he says, you know, talking about the Addams clan in the graveyard and he goes, “Living, dead” and then he looks at Lurch, “Undecided”, and it's this perfect Nathan Laneness and Douglas Sills barely gets a laugh on the line. Now, would I think Sills wasn't that great if I hadn't seen Nathan Lane? I don't know ,but it's like if you're already doing a Broadway show and you're interpreting these characters in a different way... You know, Nathan Lane does look more like the comic book Gomez, but more importantly than that, I feel like if you're gonna do a Broadway show, he's more entertaining.
Jess: I get that too.
Brent Black: Though Douglas Sills is more suave and you buy him as more of a John Astin in the TV show or Raul Julia in the movies. It just kind of comes down to what are your tastes with the Addams? And how did they get changed or not once it's a musical? But yeah, I prefer Nathan Lane a little bit.
Jess: And I understand why but for me, I want a character. I don't want a character actor. I want a character, I think is more where I sit there.
Brent Black: Yeah, cus you aren’t getting Nathan Lane Gomez. You're not getting Gomez as Gomez. You're getting Gomez as Nathan Lane.
Jess: Andrew, what do you think of Douglas Sills’ performance? Like, just out of context of that? Because you only saw him.
Andrew: I mean, honestly, I don't know if it's because of him, but yeah, there wasn't that many laughs for me. I just don't know if the humor just didn't land though.
Jess: I don't imagine you guffawing just because of the delivery though. That's not really how you work.
Andrew: No, that's probably not. I think it really just probably wasn't - I didn't find the humor particularly funny. I think The Addams Family can be very hit or miss for me because I don't find someone just doing something that's dark to be funny. There has to be a real joke there. And sometimes that's what The Addams Family does. But –
Jess: I mean, I’m just thankful there wasn’t a story – like, that this wasn’t just Fester-meets-a-girl story or Fester-being-controlled-by-woman story. Like both of The Addams Family movies were.
Andrew: Yeah, what is with Fester and not being a character, by the way?
Brent Black: But I mean, then again, do you want to follow a whole musical where Fester’s the Annie?
Andrew: No. I don't want - You can just get rid of Fester if you want, I don’t really care.
Brent Black: Brief detour. Can we talk about the fact that they decided to make a Nintendo game with Fester as the star, called Fester’s Quest? When there had been no Addams Family properties of any kind, in years and years and years, and they're just like, “You know what, let's make an Addams Family game and let's make it Fester with a gun.”
Andrew: Yeah, Uncle Fester, of course.
Brent Black: Very strange.
Andrew: Well, I mean, I think it makes sense. Uncle Fester is obviously the most relatable character because he looks like Charlie Brown.
Jess: Oh, my God. All right, I think we gotta take a break and go into our new segment. Usually, it's called Breesviews. But I'm gonna give Bree a little break today and it's gonna be Brentsviews, where we compare our thoughts with the thoughts of New York critics at the time of this release. Don't worry, Bree’s gonna have her moment in the sun today. For all you Bree lovers out there. All right, so, Brent, we have it in the doc. You've got a lot to read. I wish you luck.
Brent Black: Oh, my goodness. Well, let me open the doc as fast as I can. I'm so sorry. I have my own doc. I honestly, I just got to the point where I know how I work on this podcast, being part of the Five Timers Club. So yeah, I have my own word doc open.
Andrew: The only member of the Five Timers Club.
Brent Black: Hey, I'm the Alec Baldwin of Musicals with Cheese. My Donald Trump is also bad. Anyway. Okay.
Jess: Does anyone do a good Donald Trump?
Brent Black: Yes. Yes.
Jess: The President does a pretty good one, I think.
Brent Black: His is okay, but I'll tell you what. I'm looking now. James Austin Johnson on Twitter. You shouldn't stop listening to this podcast ever because it's great, but James Austin Johnson, who on Twitter is @shrimpJAJ does a better Donald Trump - I swear to God - than I've ever, ever, ever heard. But anyway. Okay, so I'm looking at Breesviews. Let me tell you all about it. John Simon, writing in the Bloomberg News called it a “glitzy-gloomy musical in which the quick and the dead are equally full of character, especially the chorus of ancestors that exhibits wonderful esprit de corpse.”
Andrew: Okay, is that a positive or negative?
Brent Black: Well, you know, it's really hard. That feels like something that you pull for a blurb, but it's really difficult to tell from just that one sentence.
Jess: That is the most positive blurb that they had on all The Addams Family information. The only big negative one is this next one from Ben Brantley.
Brent Black: Ben Brantley of the New York Times says, “Imagine, if you dare, the agonies of the talented people trapped inside the collapsing tomb called “The Addams Family.” Being in this genuinely ghastly musical which opened Thursday night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater and stars a shamefully squandered Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth must feel like going to a Halloween party in a strait-jacket or a suit of armor. Sure, you make a flashy (if obvious) first impression. But then you’re stuck in the darn thing for the rest of the night, and it’s really, really uncomfortable. Why, you can barely move, and a strangled voice inside you keeps gasping, “He-e-e-lp! Get me out of here!” These worries have been set to blandly generic - ” Sorry, I was doing my Captain Kirk – You know what, I'm gonna do the rest of this as Captain Kirk.
Jess: Do it, yes.
Brent Black: (as Captain Kirk) These worries have been set to blandly generic music by Mr. Lippa. And though the show makes fun of the greeting-card perkiness of Alice, who writes poems, listen to what Gomez sings to his daughter: “Life is full of contradictions/Every inch a mile./At the moment, we start weeping/That’s when we should smile.”
Jess: I can’t agree - Yeah, that was wonderful. Great job.
Brent Black: You can't agree and neither can I. I can't agree. Um, anyway.
Andrew: How do you come out with that negative of an opinion on this show?
Brent Black: But again, again –
Jess: That's Broadway.
Brent Black: Assuming you're not being sarcastic, Andrew, you have only seen the seriously retooled –
Andrew: The better version, yeah.
Brent Black: With songs added, songs cut. You know, six minutes shorter, but boy, did they do some work to get that six minutes shaved off.
Andrew: Yeah, that's fair. Maybe it was that bad.
Jess: I don't think it was that bad, as someone that saw the Broadway show. It's nowhere near as bad as Ben Brantley tries to frame it.
Brent Black: Well, the problem is the momentum. Here's the thing about Ben Brantley and any reviewer: Maybe they're in a good mood. Maybe they just got laid, or maybe they just got broken up with. This is the spectrum.
Jess: Well, with Ben, I think we know which one it is.
Brent Black: It's true. He's always getting broken up with. At least every 2-3 weeks. But, you know, you’re somewhere between “I just had a first kiss” and “my dog died”. And so, you can be fair to any show in any mood, but if a show’s already kind of like one of these shows that loses steam, and you're just waiting for it to be over, AND you're cranky, AND you're Ben Brantley... Well, the knives come out. But, you know, I kind of compare the Broadway version - which again, I knew the album but I watched the video for this podcast - I watched it in 20 minute chunks. I basically quibi’d it. RIP Quibi.
Andrew: Which, Quibi’s gone. Bye-bye.
Jess: May it die a long death.
Brent Black: Yes. Or a 10-minute death that can be watched in two different angles. But anyway –
Jess: What the fuck are they gonna do with all that media? I know it's like a dumb question, but that's a lot of media. Like an entire season of Reno 911!, a Sam Raimi movie...
Brent Black: My first thought was, “Oh, they'll just sell it off to whoever – Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, Crackle - wants it” but I hear that a lot of those series were passed on by Netflix, Hulu, Crackle. If Crackle’s like “nah, we good”, then don't do it. If Crackle didn't want it, don't do it. But anyway –
Jess: Back to The Addams.
Brent Black: So, we were talking about the Broadway version. And I think it's a matter of momentum, Jess. I think it's the fact that sometimes you get to the point where a scene’s not working, but the reason it's not working isn't because it's bad. It's because you have taken the steam out of the show and the momentum. All the air came out of it two scenes ago. So now, even though some people in the audience with no taste are still laughing loudly at every joke - the snarky kind of you know, “Make me laugh. I paid $300 for this” people are like, “Okay, this is... I'm really starting to think about my grocery list. And... did I leave the stove on?” And if that point is 45 minutes into a two-hour-and-15-minute show, you're really in trouble. So, I think that if I had watched the entire Broadway show, in one go, I think it would have been like watching the Neil Breen movie where you're like, “Okay, this is fun, because it's bad, but I also don't want to live.” Anyway.
Andrew: That's a good place to be, though. I feel like Neil Breen kind of really captures the spirit of life.
Brent Black: I love Neil Breen movies, but again, in chunks. My girlfriend was like, “let's watch one for your birthday because this isn't my kind of thing, but I'll do it for you.” And we watched an entire one all the way through and I kind of wanted to turn it off. And I feel like that's the deal with the first Addams, the Broadway incarnation, which wasn't the first. There was a pre-Broadway version but –
Jess: The Chicago one.
Brent Black: Yeah, it's not that it's just hellishly bad. So much of it for me - maybe you feel this way, Jess - is that you sense that certain actors are wasted. Particularly Bebe Neuwirth’s Morticia in the Broadway, because she's very good, but not in that role. And the role didn't really have much for her to do. So, there's comparing it to the talent of the actors, and then there's comparing it to how this could have been. “It didn't have to be this way. This scene didn't have to happen. Why did they do this? Why did they keep this song going? Why are Andrew Lippa’s lyrics, like, this weird combination of that”, you know, like - Sometimes William Finn will write a lyric where you're like, “That's the first thing you fucking thought of, you weirdo.” But because of that, a William Finn lyric sometimes will have a sloppiness, and in something like Falsettos, that can be very endearing and very charming. But Lippa will have lyrics that are as silly as your first thought, but also have internal rhymes that are really weirdly specific. And it's just like, I don't know, I have lots of... Lippa is prolific and very good and I'm sure he's a lovely person. But, sometimes the choices are just, like, you could have revised that and you didn't and that's why I think this was just a job for you.
Jess: You see, I don't get that as much here. But maybe it's just because I don't think there's a real dramatic arc to the music and storytelling of The Addams Family, even at its best, where I feel like you can have a sloppy lyric here and there and it would still kind of work for me because the Addams are sloppy here and there. I get that a lot with his adaptation of Big Fish, where a lot of the sloppiness of his lyrics and a lot of repetition of his music comes out. So... I know it's not really fair to bring that up here, but -
Andrew: I feel like if the lyrics weren't so lazy, it could really help the show a lot, though. Because The Addams Family is based on gags and and puns and things like that a lot of times.
Brent Black: Yeah, I just, there's certain things that I think are filler that I never like to hear and - to be redundant, cribbing from a video I recently made on YouTube, I almost never like the phrase “to the core” or “down to my core”. And when Wednesday says, “You have to swear to me, yes. Promise to the core.” Well, how do you promise to the core? It's just to rhyme. I hate that. Or when she says, you know, “A normal house without a mouse to feed a plant or two.” Well, that's a very tortured wording of “without anyone feeding a mouse to a fucking plant”. That's what she means. When she says “a normal house without a mouse to feed a plant or two” -
Jess: That's backward talk.
Brent Black: That's Yoda. That’s worse than Yoda. And yes, I guess in the Broadway, we have seen the mouse being fed to a plant. I'm not sure in the off-Broadway - or sorry, the tour. I'm not sure we've seen that even happen. And there's a lot of little things like that, that I just feel like - And you know, nobody's lyrics are perfect. It just like you just went with something that was not quite as specific as what you meant. And the fact that they revised the show so heavily, and so retooled it, but you kept some of those choices, is curious to me.
Jess: The thing is, they didn't change many of the songs. They changed their placement and they cut a bunch of songs. I don't remember any brand new, spankin’ new songs or any intense song edits.
Brent Black: I think Trapped was new. And also Gomez’s thing where he keeps looking out at the audience and going “There are two things I would never do.” That sequence is new.
Andrew: And that's actually a funny thing.
Brent Black: Yeah, that’s good. That's when the show is still like - you still believe that it could be great.
Andrew: That's like the best gag in the whole thing.
Brent Black: Yes. And the song Secrets, where Morticia sings to Alice about –
Jess: I'm forgetting all these songs.
Brent Black: About how spouses shouldn't have secrets from each other. This grumpy, stern, disciplinary and becoming-her-mother Morticia. Worst part - one of the worst parts of both versions is what they did to poor Morticia, who is such a great character and they just made her this really grumpy, like, stereotypical “I'm the wife and I've got problems with things” and it's like –
Andrew: Alright, Marge, get out of here.
Brent Black: That’s what I’m saying. It’s like, Addams is the antidote to that. And so, to make Morticia that kind of nag is such a sad kind of thing. But also, Gomez has a “what if”, which is a little bit of Pugsley’s “what if”. He has a little bit of that before Pugsley does. And, let's see, I'm just scrolling through. I think other than that, they cut the song Morticia, which I actually - it's too long and it's silly and it's just a sort of, to give Nathan Lane a thing to do. But I do love the song and the melody of the Broadway version - the Broadway version song Morticia, which is a first act song.
Jess: I want to talk very briefly before we get into this mid-show.
Jess: I want to talk about one of the few plot points that they added to the tour production. There's a lot of them, but one of them specifically bothers me because I hate it. I hate it when... So, Wednesday asks Gomez “Hey, I'm gonna marry this guy.” He's like, “Oh no, your mother would never allow that.” “Well, don't tell her.” And he's like, “Well, now I gotta keep a secret.” And it just becomes like keeping a secret from Morticia. And I don't believe any version of Gomez would ever keep a secret from Morticia ever?
Andrew: Well, this is not a version of Gomez, though. This is The Simpsons, the musical.
Brent Black: And not even. Like, this is Family Ties sometimes, you know? This is like -
Jess: Full House.
Brent Black: Yeah. And I will say - in the Broadway version, Gomez and Morticia didn't know. And so, it gives Gomez a conflict. And honestly, if this weren't The Addams Family, the idea of the dad being like, “Oh, I don't know what to do”, is an interesting place for him to be for a moment. But Morticia’s whole thing with, “We don't keep secrets from each other and any one secret that I don't know is a marriage-ender”. It's like, this is also predictable, and it makes Morticia such a total drag.
Jess: She becomes a shrew, kind of. As much as I hate that term.
Brent Black: Yeah, well, I mean, whatever term you want to use. She becomes, unfortunately, this stereotype that we almost feel, I think, as a culture, is kind of tired and probably a bit sexist, where it's like, “I'm just this grumpy nag of a wife.”
Andrew: And it’s been parodied so many times now.
Brent Black: Right. And the elegance and effortlessness of Morticia is completely thrown out the window. To be fair, the performer playing Morticia in the touring production we saw, I don't think really... perfectly serviceable, great voice, but like, I don't think brought the true elegance, had that true sense of effortlessness. But again, the role doesn't really support it. You'd almost be working against the role. Real quick, just in my notes before we finish talking about lyrics that I thought were not great. So, in the opener - And by the way, I think the opener is solid. Like, honestly, by the end of the opener, I think the audience is like, “Okay, I'm on board. This is fun, the song was fun, and I'm down for whatever you're going to do.” But, you know, Wednesday says, “When you're an Addams, you need to grab a bow and arrow.” Pugsley says, “When you're an Addams, you need a moment to explode”. Now, if there's any problem with my interpretation of lyrics, it's over-literalism. But they just did that to establish that Wednesday uses a crossbow, have a gag where she shoots something out of the sky (which I have never seen get a laugh). And then Pugsley just brings in one of those bomb boxes. A detonator.
Andrew: A Road Runner...
Brent Black: Exactly. An ACME detonator with like a T-shaped handle that he pulls up and pushes down and you hear a boom, but it doesn't get a laugh. And it's like, did they think they needed to acknowledge that Pugsley blows things up? And this is the only place they can do it? Do they want to just make sure you know who Pugsley is? Those two lines bugged me because if you look at them on paper, “You need to grab a bow and arrow you need a moment to explode”. They don't match the “You need to have some poison in your day.” You know what I mean? Like the rest of the song has? I don't know. I'm not sure why I so roll my eyes at that couplet.
Andrew: You lose the subtlety and just go straight for pure literalism.
Brent Black: Yeah. And to me, it's like, if those lines never got a laugh (again).
Andrew: Why? Why?
Brent Black: Yeah. Like, I'd like to think - and of course, you know, it's very easy to armchair all this. But I'd like to think that if a thing in the opening number never got a laugh, you'd be like, “Look, this is a couplet. I know we bought a detonator.” You know what I mean? “I know we - ”
Andrew: Use it later in the show!
Brent Black: Exactly. Or like, you know, not every single Addams reference needs to be in a thing. It's not like Pugsley blows anything up at any other point. Anyway -
Jess: But let's take a moment, go into the mid-show. Also, it's a ooky-spooky Halloween episode.
Jess: We already talked a bit about When You’re An Addams. Do we have any more to say about that or should we just jump off that?
(When You’re An Addams plays)
Brent Black: They did cut a little bit between Broadway and the tour. I think it was smart because as much as it's a pretty good opener, it goes on a bit long, especially with the introduction of all the ghosts and then all the different dances - the twist, the bunny hop. And of course, that's all leading up to the joke “rigor mortis”, which is a good gag. But, it's like, they just had a couple of lines they didn't need, so there were some smart cuts there. But, you know, honestly, as much as I think the show has problems, I think it's a really solid opener.
Andrew: The opener doesn't have any of the issues that the rest of the show has. You're just getting right into it and they're introducing what the Addams are.
Brent Black: Yeah, there's no conflict in it, so it's just presenting jokes, and fun, and you see the - I think Ben Brantley even mentions in his review, the curtain comes up, you see the Addams, the chorus is like, “Aa-oo-oo-oo”, and you go, “Oh my god, they're real. Look at them. They're right there.” That's exciting. We haven't gotten into the - You are totally right. Like, we just get to enjoy the idea of the Addams’ for four or five minutes before we, you know, hear them talk.
Jess: I also want to talk very, very, very briefly about how the revisions change who the “protagonist” of the show is. Just a tiny bit in song placement form. Because in this one, with Trapped for Gomez, that makes him the one with the “I want” song early on. And originally in that place was “Pulled”, which makes Wednesday the “protagonist” with the one song and the basic goal.
Andrew: Which makes more sense.
Brent Black: I think either one is flawed because they don't follow through on either one as the protagonist in either version. But I do feel like Gomez, I don't know. I honestly, I shouldn't say that there's a character that is ideal to be our protagonist, because even though there's protagonists, there's also the notion of the narrator. Fester ends up being kind of the narrator, which is not a protagonist, but it's its own, you know. But I just feel like we know that Wednesday is in love. What does she want? I guess she wants to get married, but then she doesn't, but then she does, but then she doesn't. I don't know. I think that the way they've led us into Gomez’s heart and mind in the tour version is better and makes him a little bit more central to the conflict.
Jess: I agree with that as well. And I don't think either works. Because originally, in Trapped’s place, there was Wednesday’s – Or, Where Did We Go Wrong, with Morticia and Gome.
Brent Black: Yeah, not good.
Jess: Which is just like, I feel like they're just trying to hearken back to The Producers of Where Did We Go Right?
Brent Black: Yeah, the jokes in Where Did We Go Wrong are Addamsy, but like for instance, in Where Did We Go Wrong, there's a line where Gomez says, “Are we good parents?” and the idea is like ha-ha, what he means is “Are we bad parents?” But it just doesn't land. I think actually Trapped is a really nice tight little comedy song. But unlike the best comedy songs, it goes from really funny to less funny as it goes along. Like, it comes out with that, like, “on the moderate right-wing? I'm trapped.” That's funny. “Like the New York DMV, I'm trapped.” That's funny. And then, like, to me a good comedy song - especially one that's repetitive and it's tight - gets funnier as you go along and it gets plot-ier and more thinky-feely.
Andrew: You gotta save the good jokes for the end.
Brent Black: Exactly. Honestly if you just rewrote it to the point where the republican right-wing and the New York DMV and those kinds of jokes were later on in the thing. Thinking it wouldn't be very different song. It would be better.
Brent Black: That said, he really painted himself into a corner with there's just not a lot of things that rhyme with “-apped” and he proved that by reusing some, and anyway, whatever, it's fine. When your hook has a very specific rhyme, sometimes you don't have many options. Are we past Pulled because I had thoughts.
Jess: No, we're about to talk about Pulled.
Brent Black: Great.
Jess: And Pulled, I would argue, is - tied with When You're An Addams - the most iconic and long-standing song in this show.
Brent Black: When you say long-standing, you mean like memorable or iconic?
Jess: Memorable, reused, and iconic, so to say. It is the one that all the young girls have now co-opted into their songbooks and are now sung at like all the 54 and below performances. It had a life outside of this show that is stronger than the life inside the show.
Brent Black: Right. It's one of my favorite tunes in the show. Like, in terms of the album tunes.