Review: THE ADDAMS FAMILY - MUSICAL IN CONCERT, London Palladium

Spooky, kooky and back with Ramin Karimloo and Michelle Visage as Gomez and Morticia Addams

By: Feb. 14, 2024
Review: THE ADDAMS FAMILY - MUSICAL IN CONCERT, London Palladium
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Review: THE ADDAMS FAMILY - MUSICAL IN CONCERT, London Palladium On its West End debut, The Addams Family musical makes the most of its graveyard humour and kooky characters, even if the star casting is questionable.

Over the years, the Addams Family has gone from being depicted in Charles Addams’ deliciously macabre cartoons to having their own seminal Sixties TV show, two acclaimed films in the early Nineties and, most recently, the Netflix hit Wednesday.  Not to be confused with the ersatz Munsters, the concept has changed remarkably little since it was first seen in 1938.

Review: THE ADDAMS FAMILY - MUSICAL IN CONCERT, London Palladium
Photo credit: Craig Sugden 

The musical adaptation comes with a storied history. It was created over a decade ago and - even with the noticeable updates for these West End shows - is showing its age. Featuring a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (who wrote the recently-closed Jersey Boys) and a score from English composer Andrew Lippa, it opened in Broadway in 2010 with Improbable Theatre’s Julian Ford and Phelim McDermott (Akhnaten, My Neighbour Totoro) at the helm. Gomez and Morticia were played by musical theatre stars Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth with a nascent Zachary James (Akhnaten, Hadestown) growling away as the lanky manservant Lurch. The production went on to win awards for set design and Lippa’s score was nominated for a Tony before closing after almost two years and 722 performances. Tours then followed across the US and Asia with a revival in Chicago in 2015.

The plot is a by-the-numbers affair which leans heavily on Jean Poiret’s La Cage aux Folles. Wednesday Addams has fallen in love with Lucas, a boy who is - shock, horror - “normal”. The pair engineer a dinner between their respective sets of parents - neither of which seem enamoured with this unlikely match - and plan to break the news of their recent engagement to them at the event. What could go wrong? 

This isn’t the musical’s first time on this side of the pond, having toured the UK in 2017 and 2021, and this week it rose from its slumbers for three dates at the London Palladium. Heading the cast as the rapier-swinging Gomez is Ramin Karimloo, an international musical theatre icon who is renowned for his lead performances in Phantom Of The Opera and its sequel Love Never Dies as well as playing Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean in the West End and Broadway.

Opposite him as Morticia is Michelle Visage who rose to prominence as a permanent judge on Ru Paul’s Drag Race and as a podcaster. She has appeared on numerous reality programmes either judging or as a contestant and was a singer with two Nineties music groups. According to the programme, this is her first appearance in a musical.

Most of the rest of the usual Addams Family crew are present and correct. Chumisa Dornford-May only graduated from Mountview last summer and is undoubtedly a star in the making. She was in the ensemble for Aspect Of Love’s most recent run but here steps front and centre to play a feisty Wednesday alongside Ryan Kopel (Newsies)’s sparkling Lucas. 

Lesley Joseph (Sister Act) takes on the comic relief role of Grandma with a wicked smile and a manic cackle even if her accent slips more times than a clown in a room full of banana skins. The androgynous Uncle Fester from Sam Buttery (Jesus Christ Superstar) is a real hoot with the actor revelling in their underwritten role. Nicholas McLean (Annie Get Your Gun) is exactly the Pugsly we know and love, namely a charming boy who enjoys nothing better than to be physically tortured by his big sister. Dickon Gough (As You Like It) is given little to do as Lurch but does it exceedingly well.

As Lucas’ “normal” parents, Sean Kingsley (Patriots) as Mal barely makes an impression, even when wandering around in just his boxers and a headband. This is partly down to his one-dimensional role and partly because his co-star Kara Lane is on stonking form as his sexually frustrated wife: her highly-charged solo number “Waiting” is a superbly frenetic showcase for Lane’s operatic vocals and fantastic acting.

Review: THE ADDAMS FAMILY - MUSICAL IN CONCERT, London Palladium
Photo credit: Craig Sugden 

The production has its blessings (principally Karimloo, Dornford-May and Lane) but is let down by a number of factors. The first is the so-so script which has a strange dig at Trump amid a few more oblique Americanisms (when Gomez finds out where Lucas is from, he retorts “Ohio? A swing state?”). Wednesday’s character is written as softer than one would expect: no Addams child would plead with anyone - never mind a parent - before blackmail, poisoning or other potent options had been fully explored. There are some fine lines but the humour is neither as mordant nor as morbid as one would expect from this joyfully grim family. 

White’s direction too leaves something to be desired. The action moves along at a zippy pace but the running time is too long for this predictable and borrowed storyline. White omits Cousin Itt entirely from proceedings and, in place of Thing (the handy hand from the original TV series), we have a mute jester who gives out objects. Having the Addams ancestors float in and out of the scenes adds a welcome ghostly feel but it is not made clear whether the “normals” can see them or know exactly who they are. The uninspiring set design suggests that, in at least this aspect, every expense was spared.

The most spooky and kooky thing here is the choice to give a major role to Visage. She is patently game and has worked hard with no massive errors on show but, especially next to Karimloo, her meagre theatrical skills are glaringly obvious. Morticia is the master of deadpan, something that Visage is barely able to convey most of the time; her costume does more to realise the character than anything she says or does.

Visage's singing lacks the conviction of the lyrics, her speaking tone can be too stiff and lifeless and her acting veers towards pure wood. Karimloo, in comparison, appears to be the equivalent of female Viagra: his deep, confident voice, strong dancing and handsome demeanour was likely the cause of at least a few of the high-pitched yelps heard coming from the audience. 

The Addams Family ran at the London Palladium for three shows on 12-13 February.

Photo credit: Craig Sugden 



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