Morticia’s odd clan spell laughs with a local bent

by Nobuko Tanaka

Special To The Japan Times

If the Kennedys could be said to be American royalty, then the famed Addams family would surely be satirical pretenders to their antithesis.

Gothic, seemingly immortal and nothing if not weird, this wacky clan with a taste for the creatively macabre first appeared in a series of around 150 single-panel cartoons by New Jersey resident Charles Addams, many of which were published in The New Yorker magazine between 1938 and their creator’s death 50 years later.

Now, after numerous incarnations since then on the small screen, the silver screen (in a smash-hit 1991 Hollywood film starring Angelica Huston) and on Broadway — where their spooky mansion was relocated from a nonspecific swamp beside a cemetery to Central Park in New York — the rollcall of Morticia, Gomez, Uncle Fester, Wednesday, Thing, Grandmama and the rest is now casting its uniquely merry spell on audiences venturing to enjoy “The Addams Family” musical playing at the Aoyama Theatre in Tokyo.

There, a splendidly chosen Japanese cast — including Tsubasa Makoto who excels in the central role of the mother, Morticia, Natsumi Kon as her daughter, Wednesday, and Satoshi Hashimoto in the pivotal role of doting, darkly jokey husband Gomez who keeps making stock-market killings without ever trying — will be singing, dancing and goofing to the delight of audiences through April 20.

Based loosely on musician and lyricist Andrew Lippa’s show that opened on Broadway in 2010 and ran there for 21 months before embarking on a still ongoing national and international tour, the current version playing here is a translation, but then some, resulting in a careful reworking for Japanese audiences.

While retaining much of the original’s cutting wit with shades of social comment, such as when snooty visitors are served a truth potion that reveals their inner torments and unpleasantness, there is an undeniable warmth and ordinariness to this extraordinary grouping of perennially unaging folk who, for all their strangeness, are riddled with anxiety when Wednesday brings home her first boyfriend. Indeed, for all their bizarre ways, this family is basically asking us what being “ordinary” means — and how to get along with people quite different from ourselves.

To stage the musical here and adapt it to Japanese tastes, the producers Parco enlisted the services of the hugely in-demand theater director and actor Akira Shirai, a veteran of programs from Shakespeare to opera and contemporary Western plays.

Speaking at a press preview on April 6, he explained how, “Every day in rehearsals, we discussed how to fit the black American jokes into a Japanese context, and added and changed words accordingly. And though I didn’t see the Broadway show when I was in New York — as I never imagined I’d be directing the musical one day (Laughs) — I have kept the staging straightforward and low-tech so I’m sure this will look quite different. In fact, I’d appreciate it if anyone who saw it there would tell me how this compares.”

Certainly, though, one thing most people are sure to remark on is the choreography courtesy of air:man, the Tokyo-based international award-winning artists behind many J-pop musicians’ promo videos. For sure, this funky family are never likely to have moved with quite such sparkling panache before.

“The Addams Family” runs till April 20 at the Aoyama Theatre, then tours to Nagoya, Yokohama and Osaka till May 11. For details, call 03-3477-5858 or visit www.parco-play.com.