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The Addams Family - Marc Shaiman - Soundtrack Review

The idea to discuss Marc Shaiman’s music for “The Addams Family” was a result of the live performance of the movie in the Royal Albert Hall in London on October 26, 2017. It was inspired by the pre-Halloween time in London, and the audience, especially the kids, had a lot of fun in dressing up and enjoying the wicked humour of the movie.

The movie

I am a big fan of composer Marc Shaiman, and “The Addams Family” (1991) was one of the movies I just watched because he composed the music for. Based on the famous TV-Series, Barry Sonnenfeld put a fabulous cast together to bring the macabre family to the big screen. Nowadays, you think of Sonnenfeld as the famous director of the “Men in Black”-trilogy, but back in 1991, “The Addams Family” was Sonnenfeld’s debut as director. He formerly worked as director of photography on the Oscar-nominated “In Our Water” (1982) and on various movies of Joel & Ethan Coen such as “Blood Simple” (1985), “Raising Arizona” (1987) and “Miller's Crossing” (1990). Two times, he worked with Rob Reiner, on the classic comedy “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) and one year later on “Misery”, one of the best Stephen King adaptation.

“The Addams Family” is a fictional household created by American cartoonist Charles Addams (1912 – 1988). The characters include Gomez and Morticia Addams as dearly beloved couple, their children Wednesday and Pugsley, Uncle Fester and Grandma, butler Lurch, and the disembodied hand called Thing. Invented as a satirical inversion of the ideal 20th-century American family, the Addams Family became quite popular. They originally appeared as an unrelated group of 150 single-panel cartoons, about half of which were originally published in “The New Yorker” between their debut in 1938 and Charles Addams' death in 1988.

In 1964, “The Addams Family” made their debut on television. Created by David Levy and shot in black-and-white, the series ran for 64 episodes. CBS has a rival called “The Munsters” which ran for the same two seasons and achieved higher Nielsen ratings. Comparing both shows, I prefer “The Munsters” because I am big fan of Fred Gwynne as the Frankenstein's monster-type Herman Munster. Vic Mizzy composed a famous opening theme for “The Addams Family” that Shaiman used in his score. Here is the original them:

For the movie, Anjelica Huston played Morticia and was nominated for a Golden Globe, and Raul Julia played Gomez. Christina Ricci gave a marvellous performance as Wednesday, and Christopher Lloyd played Uncle Fester. The movie was so successful that a sequel was released, but the death of Paul Julia destroyed the idea of a third movie.

I do not want to talk a lot about the plot, so people who did not watch it before can still enjoy it. Overall, you can say that Sonnenfeld perfectly captured the spirit of the Addams Family and seeing it on a big screen with the live performance of the soundtrack was highly enjoyable. For me, the movie is a classic of morbid and bizarre black humour. Here is the famous school play scene:

The score

This is the first review of a score by Marc Shaiman on my website. I pretty like the composer and his composing style with his freshly attitude, lovely melodies and musical jokes during his scores. Shaiman, born 1959 in New Jersey, is a Grammy, Emmy, Tony award-winning, and multi-Oscar-nominated American composer and lyricist for films, television and theatre. Some people may best have known him for writing the music for the Broadway musical version of John Waters’ “Hairspray”.

When looking at his film credits, you may be surprised about the bunch of famous movies Shaiman composed the music for such as “Broadcast News”, “When Harry Met Sally...”, “City Slickers” (a fabulous score), “Sister Act”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, “A Few Good Men”, “The American President” (a wonderful movie!), “The First Wives Club”, “In & Out” and “Patch Adams”, just to mention a few. He frequently works on films with Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner and appeared also in many of these films in a short cameo. In “The Addams Family” he plays the orchestra conductor in the party scene. He even co-produced and co-wrote cuts on Mariah Carey's 2010 Christmas album “Merry Christmas II You”.

The “Addams Family” album consists of 13 score tracks and a few nice songs, and while writing this review, I discovered there is a La La Land album with even more tracks and unreleased material. The first track features the famous “Addams Family” theme and after that theme, we get introduced to Shaiman’s main theme for the family, a lovely and very lyrical and romantic theme.

Track 2 “Morning” underscores watching the hand Thing doing its job. Shaiman used pizzicato strings to underscore the hand tipping on the floor and later a lot of different percussion instruments. Here is the scene:

The most recognizable instrument in this score is an electronically harpsichord that gives the score a classic feeling from ancient times. “Seances & Swordfights” underscores one of the wicked humoured scenes, one of the best tracks because of Shaiman’s sense for comedy music. Track 5 “Family Plotz” shows us Gomez remembering his old times with brother Fester, one of the most lyrical tracks of the score.

Track 7 “Evening” features Shaiman’s Addams theme with a fabulous ending of the track when the Addams couple shows us how deeply in love they are. The music erupts with a passionate climax that is highly over the top but perfectly suitable for the scene. Track 8 “Party … for me?” is the second longest track in the typical waltz style of the score, a highly enjoyable piece of music. Shaiman brings us first again into the romantic mood with a solo violin, then uses the waltz, switches later to some jazzy music and finishes the track with a romantic tune again.

The next track “Mamushka” is a very funny track for the musical scene in the movie. Gomez dances the famous, Russian-inspired family tradition dance and invites Fester to join him. I read that this scene was originally filmed as a complete musical number, but the long sequence wasn't received well with test audiences because it slowed down the movie. So, they put the full song on the score album, the lyrics are fabulous! Here is the scene:

With “Fester Exposed”, Shaiman underscores Fester’s emotional trouble after the great evening he had with the Addams and the love he received from them. Will he continue with its original wicked plan? The longest track is next one called “Rescue”, an eight-minute action track for the big showdown of the music. “Finale” brings the score to an end and gives us a romantic surprise that starts the next movie. I found a nice piece with the waltz for the Addams family:

Marc Shaiman’s music for “The Addams Family” and the sequel “The Addams Family values” are great examples of what film music composed by a highly gifted composer is able to achieve. Watching the movie on a big screen and seeing the fun of the orchestra playing this highly artistic comedy music was a real pleasure that I did not want to miss. There are just a few composers who are able to compose real comedy music, and Marc Shaiman is surely one of the best.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2018, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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