‘Addams Family’ Fans Ignore Bad Reviews, Buy Tickets

From left, Adam Riegler, Jackie Hoffman, Bebe Neuwirth, Nathan Lane, Kevin Chamberlin, Krysta Rodriguez and Zachary James in "The Addams Family." While several of the more critically acclaimed musicals to open last season have struggled to fill seats with heavily discounted tickets, “The Addams Family” has repaid investors almost 50 percent of its capitalization after just 18 weeks. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

“The Addams Family” opened on Broadway in April to horrible reviews and looked like a $16.5 million bomb. The musical’s prospects seemed to grow even dimmer when it was shut out at the Tony Awards in June.

Somehow, ticket buyers never got the message.

Last week, the three top-performing shows in average ticket price were “The Lion King” ($122.44), “Wicked” ($119.81) and “The Addams Family” ($114.31). The first two are certified blockbusters, having run a total of 20 years while consistently filling 90 percent or more of their seats.

“The Addams Family,” with a top ticket of $135, has turned out to be another show customers are willing to pay full price to see.

Some of the more critically acclaimed musicals to open last season -- including “American Idiot,” “Fela!” and the best musical Tony winner “Memphis” -- have sweated to fill seats this summer, with discounted tickets selling in the $75 to $88 range.

“The Addams Family” has repaid investors almost 50 percent of their money after just 18 weeks, according to members of the producing team who declined a request to release precise figures.

Word Of Mouth

More important, word-of-mouth is strong. Theatergoers are telling their friends they loved what the New York Times called a “collapsing tomb” and a “genuinely ghastly musical” (and that was just in the first paragraph).

I should point out that Bloomberg News’s John Simon enjoyed “The Addams Family” and anticipated the audience response when he wrote that “the whole show is a menage a trois of the ghastly, the ghostly and the side-splitting. And you know what? Unlike in most current musicals, the songs really shine: Melody, too, has risen from the dead.”

Audience surveys financed by the producers told them that Charles Addams is no more relevant to the ticket buyers than the Times.

“I go back to watch the audience, and the thrill is seeing how deeply in love with the show they are,” said Andrew Lippa, who wrote the music and lyrics, earning “The Addams Family” one of its two Tony nominations (the other was for supporting actor Kevin Chamberlin, who plays Uncle Fester).

“They run out of clever ways to say how thrilled they are. It’s only gotten better,” Lippa added, speaking from a car on the way to his country house in Pennsylvania.

Gun-Shy Producers

The producers, led by former investment banker Roy Furman and Broadway veteran Stuart Oken, already were gun shy from the experience of opening the show.

After a rocky opening in Chicago, the transfer to New York was dogged by gossip about an acrimonious relationship between Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, who play the heads of the bizarre Addams clan, Gomez and Morticia. There were also questions about whether Lippa and book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice would be able to fix the show in time for the Broadway opening.

Fix they did, dropping songs that weren’t working, adding new material and making sure the opening number told the audience to relax and have a good time.

For the producers were counting on one thing that has proven to be true: The Addams Family brand has nothing to do with the Addams drawings and everything to do with the television sitcom that ran from 1964 to 1966 -- prime Baby Boomer time.

“While audiences definitely want to see both Nathan and Bebe, the primary motivating factor for those who have bought tickets and those inclined to see the show is their affection for the characters -- in a very nostalgic, fun sense -- due to the TV series primarily,” said a member of the production team.

While Lane and Neuwirth are certified Broadway stars --with unusually long contracts that will keep them in the show through the spring of 2011 -- “The Addams Family” has not been promoted as a star vehicle.

“The show has been positioned from the start highlighting the family and the cartoons, not the stars, to build for the long-term,” a producer of the show said. “The Vic Mizzy TV theme has been used extensively in both TV and radio ads. It has tremendous recognition value for the public. They only need to hear ‘DA-DA-DA DUM, snap, snap, DA-DA-DA DUM, snap, snap,’ to instantly pay attention and smile.”

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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