Home > Reviews > THE ADDAMS FAMILY – Marc Shaiman


November 11, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

They’re creepy and their kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re all together ooky, the Addams family.

A big-screen reboot of the classic 1960s TV sitcom, which itself was based on a popular newspaper cartoon by Charles Addams, The Addams Family is a comedy with a twist. Led by patriarch Gomez Addams and his aristocratic wife Morticia, the Addamses are a macabre group who demonstrate some supernatural abilities, but nevertheless live a comparatively normal life in suburban America with their children Wednesday and Pugsley, their manservant Lurch, and a disembodied hand named Thing which acts as the family pet. The film picks up the story many years after the TV show ended, and follows the family as it tries to re-connect with Gomez’s long-lost brother Fester, who has unexpectedly reappeared in their lives after being missing for a long time. However, unbeknownst to the Addamses, ‘Fester’ is actually a conman working with a loan shark, who wants the family fortune. The plot is really just an excuse for the cast to engage in a series of deliciously dark and ghoulishly comedic set-pieces, near-the-knuckle jokes, and verbal witticisms. The cast is led wonderfully by the late Raul Julia as the flamboyant Gomez, Anjelica Huston as the sultry Morticia, and Christopher Lloyd as Fester, and features a breakthrough performance from the then 11-year-old Christina Ricci as the proto-goth kid Wednesday. It was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and was mostly a critical and commercial success, eventually receiving an Oscar nomination for costume design.

The Addams Family concept takes familiar horror tropes – vampires, femme fatales, mad scientists, and the like – and re-imagines them in a wholesome sitcom setting, with much of the comedy coming from the juxtaposition between 1960s white bread suburbia and the Addamses, who represent the outsider in society, and who are seemingly unaware or unconcerned that other people find them bizarre or frightening. There have been studies and essays written about how the Addamses are coded avatars for alternate lifestyles, gays in the closet, even foreign immigrants into American life, and how they integrated into mainstream life, and all of which may be true, but most people just enjoyed their peculiar antics. The original TV show is considered a major milestone in American broadcast history, and quickly became a staple of popular culture, and this continued into the numerous subsequent TV and film adaptations.

Another aspect of the original TV show that has since become a pop culture touchstone is its theme tune, which was written by composer Vic Mizzy. Although Mizzy wrote more than 40 scores for film and TV, as well as hit songs for Doris Day and Dinah Shore, the Addams Family theme is his lasting legacy. It’s instantly recognizable, with its harpsichord melody, finger-snap percussion, and offbeat lyrics describing the family and their lifestyle in a variety of colorful metaphors. Mizzy was 75 when the Addams Family movie came out, and so the scoring duties for it instead went to composer Marc Shaiman, whose career trajectory was in the ascendancy at the time off the back of successes such as When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and City Slickers. However, Shaiman paid more than lip service to Mizzy’s theme, incorporating it frequently into his score, and building out of the iconic gothic style that he brought to the original series.

After a cheerful burst of Christmas songs, the carolers are hilariously interrupted by the determinedly un-festive family pouring a cauldron of bubbling unmentionables onto them, and Shaiman quotes Mizzy’s theme in its entirety, before introducing us to his own new main theme in the “Main Title”. Shaiman leans heavily into the aristocratic heritage of the family with the theme, which is a lush and sweeping fully-orchestral waltz with an opulent, but slightly old-fashioned sound. It’s one of Shaiman’s all-time best themes, and he uses it liberally through the rest of the score. But that’s not all there is to the score either; the thing is rich with that music box beauty that so typified Danny Elfman’s early 1990s work, but is also blended with gypsy rhythms, elements of Jewish klezmer music, frantic action, and pastiches of classic Hollywood.

“Morning” offers a brief introduction to the family, beginning with a quirky theme for pizzicato strings and harpsichords that accompanies the disembodied hand Thing as it skitters around the Addams house. There’s a sense of faded elegance in the string writing that tends to accompany Morticia, some moody electronic tones for the equally moody Wednesday, and numerous quotes of and variations upon the waltz theme. It all has a tone of light comedy, but it’s also tuneful and atmospheric in all the best ways, and really showcases Shaiman’s musical dexterity. The subsequent “Seances and Swordfights” is bold and flamboyant, and richly textured; after a brief interlude for church organs and shimmering string and woodwind writing that contains a significant amount of old-fashioned eeriness, the whole thing quickly gives way to a wonderful piece of Errol Flynn-style swashbuckling that Erich Wolfgang Korngold would have loved. The piece leaps and bounds like a whirligig, and also has some fiery flamenco textures representing Gomez’s Latin heritage.

“Family Plotz” introduces a new theme reflecting Gomez’s idyllic childhood with his long-lost brother Fester, and the nostalgic longing he has for that period in his life. Shaiman scores the emotion with a series of lush Golden Age romantic textures, Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, as well as some elongated explorations that contain all manner of moody textures, as well as references to the main theme waltz. “Evening” explores the passionate romantic relationship between Gomez and Morticia, who despite their outward morbidity are in a committed, loving relationship… it just has some kinks! It begins with a series of lovely fairytale music box textures, little glints from the harpsichord, and elegant statements of the waltz, but becomes more and more flamboyant as it develops, eventually climaxing with a lush and sweeping statement of their love theme. As Morticia says, “don’t torture yourself Gomez… that’s my job!”

“A Party… For Me?” is a celebratory piece that recognizes the joy Gomez feels at reconnecting with Fester, offering statements of both the waltz and the Gomez/Fester nostalgia theme, as well as some wonderful moments of big band jazz and something approaching circus music. Shaiman’s orchestrations – written here by an all-star cast featuring Steve Bartek, Ralph Burns, Dennis Dreith, and Mark McKenzie, among others – are especially outstanding; the solo violin writing is excellent, as are the cascading pianos and harp glissandi that regularly feature, giving the orchestra a sense of magical wonderment. The fact that both Bartek and McKenzie regularly worked with Danny Elfman at this point in his career should not be overlooked, as there are clear tonal similarities between this score and things like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, among others. “Thing Gets to Work” reprises the frantic skittering from the opening cue, before moving sideways into yet more authentic and energetic big band jazz.

“Fester Exposed” is the turning point in the score as it marks the moment Gomez discovers that the man he thought was Fester is actually a conman named Gordon trying to cheat him out of the family fortune. Here, Shaiman reprises the Gomez/Fester nostalgia theme for soft woodwinds backed with strings and piano; the tone is beautiful, but regretful, and bittersweet. However, the second half of the cue raises the stakes and is full of staccato, jazzy action, replete with frantic scales, string dissonance, and heavy brass underpinned with pummeled percussion. The skittering Thing motif runs through a lot of this part of the cue too – he plays a major role in the sequence, as he alerts Gomez to the fact that Morticia has been kidnapped by Fester/Gordon.

“The Rescue” is the score’s big finale, as the entire Addams clan race to save Morticia from her grisly fate. There is a sad version of the Gomez/Fester nostalgia theme anchored by a morose solo violin, but it all quickly turns into a fantastic action sequence for the full orchestra, showcasing Shaiman’s still under-valued action music credentials. There’s a fantastic reprise of Gomez’s swashbuckling motif, and numerous other interpolations of all the score’s main themes in rousing, epic arrangements, before it all climaxes in dramatic fashion. The “Finale” offers warm reprises of several themes, notably the Gomez/Fester nostalgia theme, and a pretty and tender version of Vic Mizzy’s classic theme to underscore the moment that Morticia announces she is pregnant – cue the sequel!

The album is rounded out by three pieces of source music. “Playmates” is a ridiculous piece of slapstick verbal comedy by the performance art group The Kipper Kids, “The Mooche” is a terrific arrangement of Duke Ellington’s classic 1928 jazz piece, with its slithering clarinets, muted trumpets, and sultry, lazy, bluesy style; fans of Oogie Boogie from Danny Elfman’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will hear the similarities. Finally, “Mamushka” is Shaiman’s arrangement of the Betty Comden-Adolph Green faux-Russian dance folk piece, performed by Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd during the party sequence. As Gomez says, “it was taught to us by our Cossack cousins! The Mamushka has been an Addams family tradition since God knows when. We danced the Mamushka while Nero fiddled… we danced the Mamushka at Waterloo… we danced the Mamushka for Jack the Ripper. And now, Fester Addams, this Mamushka is for you!” It’s very silly, but very good.

23 years after the original soundtrack album came out, producer Dan Goldwasser and La-La Land Records released a deluxe expanded re-issue of the score for The Addams Family. The expanded album runs for over 70 minutes and includes music that Shaiman wrote and recorded that didn’t make the final cut of the film, as well as bonus tracks that include the film’s trailer music and more. Fans of the score will certainly want to check it out – it expands greatly on several of the score’s key thematic ideas, and really showcases the scope of Shaiman’s work.

The Addams Family remains one of the most impressive scores of Marc Shaiman’s film career. Although the anchor of the score remains Vic Mizzy’s classic theme for the original TV series, the way that Shaiman was able to use that theme as a starting point for all sorts of devilish musical delights is enormously impressive. Both the waltz theme and the Gomez/Fester nostalgia theme are outstanding, the action is expansive and powerful, and the whole thing has a wonderful sense of rich classicism that suits the tone and feel of the film perfectly.

Buy the Addams Family soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Deck the Halls/Main Title (2:19)
  • Morning (2:54)
  • Seances and Swordfights (1:38)
  • Playmates (written by Saxie Dowell, performed by The Kipper Kids) (:25)
  • Family Plotz (3:54)
  • The Mooche (written by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills) (3:31)
  • Evening (3:12)
  • A Party… For Me? (5:21)
  • Mamushka (written by Marc Shaiman, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green, performed by Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd) (3:30)
  • Thing Gets to Work (0:56)
  • Fester Exposed (2:05)
  • The Rescue (8:04)
  • Finale (2:59)
  • Carol of the Bells/The Fa-La-La Song/Deck the Halls (1:08)
  • Main Title (1:50)
  • Morning (2:55)
  • Chess (1:02)
  • Tully’s Entrance/For Fester (1:01)
  • Seances and Swordfights (1:43)
  • The Tully Crawl/Gone With the Wind/Tully & Fester (2:48)
  • Bermuda Love/Fester Snoops (1:15)
  • Thing at Door (1:39)
  • Playmates (written by Saxie Dowell, performed by The Kipper Kids) (0:25)
  • Open & Enter Vault/Fester Sees Gold/Gold Gliss (1:40)
  • The Mooche (written by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills) (3:32)
  • Take It Off/Family Plotz (4:15)
  • Evening (3:14)
  • A Party… For Me? (5:21)
  • Pre-Mamushka Violin (0:32)
  • Mamushka (written by Marc Shaiman, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green, performed by Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd) (3:35)
  • Pugsley Platter/Search/ Finding Wednesday (1:48)
  • I Am That Fool! (0:19)
  • Fester Exposed (2:05)
  • Trio Bungled/Pep Talk (1:15)
  • Thing Gets to Work (Film Version) (0:37)
  • The Rescue (8:45)
  • Finale (3:22)
  • Pre-Séance/Séance Music (2:03) BONUS
  • Playmates – Instrumental (written by Saxie Dowell) (0:25) BONUS
  • Thing Gets to Work (Album Version) (0:58) BONUS
  • Addams Family Theatrical Trailer (1:11) BONUS
  • Mamushka – Instrumental and Choir (written by Marc Shaiman, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green) (3:35) BONUS
  • Waltz Potpourri (Themes Demo) (4:54) BONUS

Running Time: 40 minutes 48 seconds (Original)
Running Time: 69 minutes 12 seconds (Expanded)

Capitol Records C2-98172 (1991) — Original
La-La Land Records LLLCD-1291 (1991/2014) — Expanded

Music composed by Marc Shaiman. Conducted by Hummie Mann. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Ralph Burns, Dennis Dreith, Jack Eskew, Hummie Mann, Mark McKenzie and Thomas Sharp. The Addams Family Theme by Vic Mizzy. Recorded and mixed by Tim Boyle. Edited by George A. Martin. Original album produced by Marc Shaiman. Expanded album produced by Dan Goldwasser.

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