The theme is more warm than creepy, but The Addams Family tries to attract fans of the old series with its visual effects. Carol Rosegg / For China Daily
BEIJING, Aug. 16 — The Broadway adaptation of American cartoonist Charles Addams’ black comedy The Addams Family made its debut in China with its original English version on Aug 13, testing the waters for the young musical after the success of classics, such as Cats and Mamma Mia!
The Addams family is a group of creepy characters in the cartoonist’s one-panel gags serialized in the weekly magazine The New Yorker from 1938 until Addams’ 1988 death.
Grandma is madly keen on making poison. Mother grows a piranha plant as her pet. Father is intoxicated by a “beautiful” painting of tombs. The daughter’s hobby is studying death, while the son loves being tortured by his sister. And the uncle giggles when everyone else in the cinema is weeping over a sad movie.
Eccentric as they are, the Addamses quickly won Americans’ hearts. The Addams Family has been adapted to TV series, both live and animated, since the 1960s.
After a tryout in Chicago in 2009, the musical version opened on Broadway in April 2010 and saw $15 million advance ticket sales the following weekend, a huge figure for a new Broadway show. It had more than 750 runs with a weekly revenue of $1 million until it closed at the end of 2011.
Then it went on tour, visiting Asia for the first time this summer.
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the musical’s playwrights, say the charm of the Addams family lies in their straightforwardness and ease with being different from others.
“They have no subtext. Whatever they think, they say. Whatever they want to do, they act out. They are enviable. What they do is what we want to do, but we can’t because of all kinds of restrictions,” Brickman says.
People can also identify with the cartoon’s family perspective, which is the focus of the stage adaptation.
The New Yorker has criticized the musical’s story for staying safely on the outside of Addams’ comic world and has picked “the weakest one of all the dark cards in Addams’ hand”, which is “love”.
However, choosing the cliche yet universal theme has helped the Broadway production to cross cultural borders. It has recently launched international productions in Brazil, Sweden, Australia, Argentina, Finland and Peru with cast of local performers.
Despite the warm, loving theme, the musical compensates fans who go for the spooky side of The Addams Family with its visual effect.
According to Mark Minnick of the casting staff, what sets it from any other musical is the unusual ensemble made of the Addams family’s ancestors who come up from graves. Pale skin, messy hair and rotten clothes make these ghosts a bit scary.
It’s also interesting to see how Andrew Lippa, the music and lyrics writer, brings the characters from paper to life. His Addams Family work won him a 2010 Tony Award nomination for the best original score.
The fantasy musical has great potential to become a box-office hit on its Asian tour, drawing big audiences for 24 shows in Singapore. But Chinese audiences are much more cautious about trying something new.
Broadway Asia International, the production company for The Addams Family’s Asian tour, approached theaters in Beijing and Shanghai but they all turned it down because of cost and box-office concerns.
Only Guangzhou Opera House on the Chinese mainland was bold enough to take the project. After shows there, the production moves on to Macao.
The cool reception shows that the musical market in China is still not mature, according to Xu Minqi, art director of the opera house.
“Chinese theaters can’t feed the audience with only classics that are two or three decades old all the time. The market needs a variety of shows,” Xu says.
“We were prepared to lose money before we accepted the project. The market needs cultivation. I hope The Addams Family and more good, less-known musicals and other arts can get a good start in Guangzhou and attract the country’s attention.”
Marc Routh, president of Broadway Asia International, says, “The musical is a new art form for China. The market is growing. If The Addams Family succeeds in China, it will prove that the Chinese audiences truly accept the concept of Broadway. Then we can expect China to produce more musicals of its own.”