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‘Addams’ faces Chicago critics

Many reviewers see potential of tuner

The Verdict looks at critical reaction to key productions opening Off Broadway, regionally and abroad that appear likely candidates for further life on Broadway and/or elsewhere.

Gotham legiters generally agree that new tuner “The Addams Family” has the potential to become the large-scale, brand-name crowdpleaser of the Broadway season, especially now that “Spider-Man, Turn off the Dark” has been postponed.

But according to Chicago critics, the show needs a little more nurturing before it can meet that potential.

The musical, with score by Andrew Lippa (“The Wild Party”) and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys”), is said to be selling very well in its current pre-Rialto tryout in Chicago, which opened Dec. 9.

Local critics unanimously praised the actors, including topliners Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, while more than one noted that Neuwirth is a little underused. Many agree the multiple storylines, centered on the meeting of the Addamses with the family of daughter Wednesday’s boyfriend, could be tightened.

Critics seemed to disagree on just how much work the show still needs. But all offered advice on potential changes for the creatives — including director-designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch — to consider between now and when the show opens at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne April 8.

Here’s what the Chicago critics said:

Writing in Variety, Steven Oxman gave “Addams” one of its more effusive notices. “The show is theatrical comfort food, providing value for the consumer dollar,” he wrote, calling the production “slickly designed, completely accessible, consistently amusing.” Still, he did have quibbles: “Is the show overcrammed and underfocused? Yup,” he conceded, adding the “storytelling is all rising action followed by rapid, not really convincing resolution.” Nonetheless, “such qualms likely won’t bother the broad target audience.”

At the other end of the spectrum was Chicago Tribune reviewer Chris Jones, who believes major work is required, urging the creatives to take “a long, hard look,” and lobbying for “all the Gothic clutter” to be pruned. The main issue, wrote Jones, is that the iconic characters’ quintessential qualities get lost in the proceedings. He said the show “pulls itself in new narrative directions so fast and so far, you don’t get enough of a chance to enjoy the Addamses being the Addamses.” Jones also was not alone in calling a chorus of Addams ancestors superfluous. “The whole show needs to be funnier and more visually spontaneous,” he wrote, while granting there’s “integrity and originality aplenty.”

Hedy Weiss was more upbeat in her review of the “winningly lunatic world premiere” in the Chicago Sun-Times. She doled out praise to all the production elements and said the musical “demonstrates that such disparate artists can indeed become a fabulously functional theatrical family.” “Things can get a bit repetitious at moments,” she acknowledged. “Yet there is rarely a dull moment.

In Time Out Chicago, Kris Vire called “Addams” “largely admirable” but, for all the set-up of its plot, “entropy ensues.” “The show’s major crime is its need for editing,” he wrote, saying it feels a half-hour too long and giving a thumbs-down to opening number “Clandango.” But per Vire, “With a little more pruning, ‘Addams’ could be a creepy, kooky delight.”

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