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Trying times for Chicago tryouts

'Addams,' 'Banana' get tweaked en route to Gotham

Two Gotham-bound shows that met a mixed response from critics in their Chicago tryouts are now busy retooling before their New York bows.

Jerry Zaks has been tapped to rework upcoming Broadway tuner “The Addams Family,” while Cirque du Soleil’s vaudeville-style clown show “Banana Shpeel” has pushed back the start of previews in New York to allow a full month of rehearsals.

Zaks has stepped away from directing the Rialto production “All About Me,” opting instead to join the team of “Addams,” on which he’ll be billed as creative consultant. The musical is midway through its tryout run in Chicago and is skedded to open at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theater on April 8.

All the members of the original creative team remain attached to “Addams,” including co-directors and designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch. Composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa pens the tunes while Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice provide the book.

The gothic comedy tuner opened earlier this month in Chicago to mixed reviews, with some prominent local critics arguing that major changes were needed for “Addams” to work on Broadway.

The show’s multiple storylines and characters could be tightened, reviewers argued, with a greater emphasis placed on the titular family, known from Charles Addams’ iconic cartoons, as well as film and TV adaptations.

The show’s cast, which received generally favorable notices, remains in place, at least for the moment. Nathan Lane, who has worked with Zaks on shows including the 1992 revival of “Guys and Dolls,” and Bebe Neuwirth topline as Gomez and Morticia Addams.

It’s not uncommon for producers of new musicals to bring in additional creative talent during the development process. Last season helmer-choreographer Rob Ashford was tapped by DreamWorks to lend input to Jason Moore’s staging of “Shrek the Musical” during that tuner’s tryout in Seattle.

While no show doctor has been announced for “Banana Shpeel,” the blistering reviews received when it opened at the Chicago Theater Dec. 2 signaled that major changes would be likely before the scheduled February premiere at New York’s Beacon Theater.

Chi reviewers slammed writer-director David Shiner’s production as stale and charmless, indicating that Cirque had failed to mold its standard magic to the unfamiliar contours of a proscenium stage. While not quite acknowledging that the fledgling show is in trouble, the postponement announcement makes it clear that work is ongoing.

“The creation of a new production is an exciting and constantly evolving process,” said the release. “With the new show ‘Banana Shpeel,’ the ideas continue to develop and the additional rehearsal time onstage will allow the best opportunity to fully realize the show’s potential.”

Gotham previews will now begin Feb. 25 rather than the original date of Feb. 4; a new official opening has not yet been set.

Addams” remains on track to begin previews in New York March 4. Stuart Oken and Roy Furman are among the producers.

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