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Review: The Addams Family at Liverpool Empire ***1/2

Love, laughter and a possible happily ever after? Can this really be The Addams Family?

An opening howl, clap of thunder and burst of lightning, and those famous clicking fingers tell us it is indeed. But it seems there’s change afoot for the freaky family in this touring musical comedy which is at the Liverpool Empire this week.

Wednesday (Kingsley Morton making an assured professional debut) has got herself a non-spooky student boyfriend called Lucas (Ahmed Hamad) and the pair are planning on getting engaged.

Afraid of what her mother Morticia will say, Wednesday enlists the help of dad Gomez (Cameron Blakely, a joy as the preening, philosophising Spanish patriarch) to smooth the path for a ‘normal’ family dinner where her stolidly all-American, Midwestern in-laws-to-be are set to meet the Addams clan for the first time.

But as the predictable chaos unfolds, the question emerges – who and what is normal anyway? And who of us doesn’t have his or her own demons to conquer or embrace?

Above: Cameron Blakely (Gomez) and Joanne Clifton (Morticia) tango in The Addams Family. Top: The Addams Family. Photos by Pamela Raith.

There’s amusement to be had watching this clash of cultures which reaches its zenith at a Last Supper-style dinner scene where the jealous Pugsley (Grant McIntyre) causes chaos with a stolen potion.

Matthew White channels his experience of directing zingy, sharp comedy musicals (The Producers, Little Shop of Horrors, Top Hat) to hone some crisply delivered scenes, and Alistair David’s choreography – much of it executed by the ensemble of Addams family ‘ancestors’ (think extras from a 1980s pop video), and designer Diego Pitarch’s set, combine to make the production visually enticing.

Former Strictly pro champion Joanne Clifton is really maturing as a musical theatre performer, swapping her usual sparky roles for the stillness of macabre matriarch Morticia, albeit still getting to execute some Strictly moves, while the ‘normal’ Beinekes are entertainingly realised by Sean Kingsley and Kara Lane.

Above: The Beinekes meet the Addams family. Photo by Pamela Raith

And Matt Slack is a delight as Uncle Fester, who both semi-narrates the story and has his own sweet plotline, yearning passionately – and tunefully – for his beloved moon.

The catchy (if not terribly memorable) numbers nod in many musical directions. There’s a hint of Tevye in Gomez’s solo Wednesday’s Growing Up, while the full company’s One Normal Night has touches of Les Mis, and Full Disclosure, which closes the first half, could have been purloined from Chicago’s Billy Flynn.

They’re delivered with plenty of energy and harmony by the cast, although the punchy live band in the pit can be a bit too punchy at times – overwhelming some of the vocals and assaulting more sensitive eardrums.

The plot itself is thinner than a wafer-thin mint.

And with such a flimsy premise on which to build, the production's two-and-a-half hour running time feels over-extended and somewhat indulgent, particularly the first half which would benefit from a bit of judicious pruning.

Still, in the absence of a strong narrative arc, it's the performances from a uniformly great cast which bring the show alive and inject a satisfying zing.

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