It’s a big night in the world of cartooning…or sort of.
The new ADDAMS FAMILY MUSICAL is opening on Broadway this evening at the LUNT-FONTANNE THEATRE -205 West 46th Street (between Broadway and 8th Ave). It follows in the footsteps of Annie, Superman, Charlie Brown,
Li’l Abner and many others, translating the world of the cartoon to the world of the stage.
And it must be stopped.
It is unclean.
The ruination of Western Civilization.
Après ça, c’est la deluge.
See, I love, adore, admire, and devour the work of Charles Addams, one of the great satirists and subversive cartoonists of the 20th Century…and I saw a cast performance of a bit of this show on Letterman this week… and it’s so far off the mark, we should consider armed insurrection.
Addams is my favorite New Yorker cartoonist of their golden age, and that’s number #1 of a large and impressive list. It if weren’t for his deliciously
macabre drawings throughout the forties and fifties (and well into the eighties, though he did slow down as time wore on…) we wouldn’t have Gahan Wilson, B Kliban, Edward Gorey, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Gary Larson, and probably most of the Playboy cartoonists of THEIR golden age, and those were the guys that made me want to do this cartoony stuff for a living. So this guy CHAS ADDAMS was hero to my heroes….
Addams’ subject was always the same thing: beneath the veneer of civilization is horror and chaos. Death, despair, sex, murder, and shock are never further than around the corner, under the bed, or behind your back. His imagination is a land of manners and politeness, filled with nicely dressed
businessmen, and boy scouts (lots of boy scouts), housewives and secretaries, cops and teachers, all ready to kill you or commit suicide, or betray society’s values in spectacular fashion in about two seconds. What a HOOT.
And into this cynical cartoon world, Addams introduced his beloved family. Slowly at first, in the late 1930s, we see a nameless emaciated woman in a gripping black dress who starts to show up with some regularity in his New Yorker cartoons. She and her giant manservant are all we see for a while, but by the end of WW2, this still unidentified woman has a husband and two children around her, and this family, with extended in-laws and guests, became staples of Addams’ work for decades to come.
They were never the focus of what he did…he never gave up on his suicidal boy scouts, evil businessmen and rapacious secretaries …and in fact, he never named the family that appeared in so many gag panels until they became television stars of the Sixties. But these upper class, Old World monsters of a decaying past showed up a lot, and were clearly his trademark.
There was that stock ticker in the living room of their huge home, constantly printing out information about their constantly expanding holdings. How vulgar and monstrous THAT was in a world of nouveau poverty. And manservants when so many were unemployed? They were always living in a distant and discredited past. The mansion was conspicuously 19th century. Their clothing was twenty years out of fashion (Fester dresses as though it’s the middle ages) and there was dust and cracks everywhere in their environment. They represented the old ways during a time of jet aircraft and the promising future of astounding technology.
And, oh yes, they were murderers, ghouls and cannibals.
The point of the satire is hardly subtle. The Addams Family is the broad stroke portrait of the worst of the American Myth: That the upper classes are better than you. They are not. They are sociopaths and vampires. But rather than making them simply repellent, which would have been dull work, Addams makes them a family which loves their kids, are generous and kind to neighbours and are exemplary people in all the ways “official” society asks them to be….except that they love death, decay and sadism.
Addams was speaking truth to power. That’s what satirists do.
But this STAGE SHOW, opening tonight, is the exact opposite of everything Addams was doing.
I saw a performance of the cast on Letterman earlier in the week, and it was as wrongheaded a production as I’ve seen. This is a nostalgia show, WALLOWING in the past, rather than making fun of it. They want the audience who paid $150 dollars to see a recreation of a thirty-five year old movie (SPAMALOT) and a forty year old movie (THE PRODUCERS) to pay for a recreation of a forty-five year old TV series. The jokes are ancient, and the dance number I watched relied on moves that are a distant memory to people who still have their own teeth. A youthful culture making fun of the decaying relics of the past, this AIN’T.
Secondly, this isn’t the Addams Family. It’s a watered down version of the watered down version that was the TV series. They don’t so much boil the neighbours and eat them, as make veiled references to it. All cleaned up for the kids. Don’t expect black comedy here–think vanilla comedy with lightly blackened sprinkles. The two ADDAMS FAMILY movies with Raul Julia got much of the black comedy right, but that happy memory of those DECADES old films is exactly the nostalgia they’re hoping you will be feeling when you buy your tickets to this weakly brewed imitation. And this is being presented on Broadway, where the average tickets cost a
hundred dollars or more, in the middle of an economic disaster. That means that the ones in the audience—the folks who can afford to blow a multiple hundreds of dollars for a few hours entertainment ARE the upper-middle and upper classes of New York who are the very people that the Addams Family is a portrait of.
There is no shock. No satire. No knowing understanding of the social lie that’s being punctured here. It’s all just so much crap trotted out for the rubes.
Now, I know this is all about entertainment, and in the world we live in I shouldn’t get so worked up about this. Who is being hurt? Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth need to eat, and I’m sure no one involved is a bad person.
But they’re pissing on my turf. They’re devaluing the original by turning filet mignon into McDonalds. And as a purveyor and producer of comics, I hate it when they’re considered the disposable and forgotten version, especially in cases like this.
Years ago, I was lucky enough to find a first printing copy of DRAWN AND QUARTERED, the first collection of Addams’ cartooning work. It cost me less than ten dollars (although that was probably an oversight on the part of the bookstore), but I consider it one of my priceless treasures. And tonight and for the next few months, you can throw away fifteen times that amount of money to watch a bunch of people prove how completely they misunderstand everything about the work contained in that book.
SOME FULL DISCLOSURE: One of the producers of this show is an old friend of my wife’s. He’s actually a terrific guy, and got me some great seats to a show or two when my wife and I were in New York. And I’ve always had an unrestrained crush on Bebe Neuwirth, so I’m probably not as angry about this as I should be….
SO, no violent protests, please. Instead of burning down the theater why not spend your money on this recent SIMPSONS book?
Considering it contains the work of Ty Templeton, a fresh young talent with a lot of promise, it might be worth reading!
Tomorrow: The return of Hoverboy Fridays…the latest news about that Glenn Reid country music CD I designed the cover for, and performed on…and don’t forget: ALL NEW WEBCOMICS on the weekend.
Ty the Guy
(sigh…yes, it’s true. An old buddy of mine is part of the production department. Actually, just “friended” me on facebook earlier this week. Don’t know his actual title for this show, and I’ve forgot what it was when he helped produce SPAMALOT a couple years back. ..the show he got me tickets for when it came to Toronto, and I got to go to the Opening Night party and see Eric Idle. Thanks, Guy, for slagging that show, too.
Said friend did just announce on facebook today that he was off to an official opening for this new show. So, thanks, honey–this will be the last time I get free tickets for anything!
Here’s hoping he doesn’t do any googling later…I’m off to see if he’s unfriended me, yet!
Yes, that’s right! I don’t sell out for anything! Or for my blog!
Ty the Guy
Apparently, the reality jibes with your perception: the NYT review is in and it’s pretty cranky…
Pingback: SO YOU READ STRANGE TALES II #1: A NEON MONSTER GUIDE TO WHAT YOU NEED TO READ NEXT AND WHY | Neon Monster Blog
I am looking for the name of the Chas Addams book that included the cartoon series “The Bells of Saint Transdens”. The first half of the book was New York cartoons, I think, it would have been published before 1960. Anyone know?
I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with it. I tried googling it just now, and the google machine called me names, so little help there. Anyone else on the intertubes know about this? (It’s not in the three or four collections of Addams’ stuff that I have, either!)
I made a mistake, the series was The Bells of Saint Trinians by Ronald Searle. I must have seen it in a collection of New Yorker Cartoon’s from the 1950’s and confused the two authors. Sorry and thanks. By the way if you like Chas Addams, you’ll like Ronald Searle as well, he is an English version with an edge.
Oh, I am completely familiar with Ronald Searle, who I have loved since I was a lad. I believe I first encountered him in the Uncle Fegg’s Nasty Book for Boys and Girls (by Python castmembers Palin and Jones) back in the early Seventies.