Elf, the stage musical based on the movie with Will Ferrell, opened at the Fox Theatre on Tuesday. Before we go any further I have to make a confession, I never saw the movie. Unlike the girl sitting next to me, I can’t tell you the movie is funnier. But here is what I can tell you.
Every year theaters around the country look for holiday “family fare” to present in December. Most settle on the tried and true A Christmas Carol, so having another play to offer can be fresh and new. Elf appeals to young children and Will Ferrell fans. Even though the play runs till 10:30, there were many children in the audience and they seemed quite taken with the spectacle.
If, like me, you haven’t seen the movie, here’s the rundown. Buddy is a human who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s sack and ended up at the North Pole. He is adopted and raised as an Elf and has no idea, even when he towers over the other elves, that he is really human. Once he discovers this fact, and that his father, Walter Hobbs, is on the “naughty” list, Buddy heads to NYC to rescue his dad, his little brother Michael, an unbeliever, and indeed, Christmas itself, by injecting NYC’s curmudgeons and jades with a bit of “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” Christmas Spirit.
There are lots of fun things about this show, the sets by Christine Peters are lush and colorful, I especially liked the silhouette of the NYC skyline, and Gregg Barnes’ costumes work in both worlds, imaginative and comical at the North Pole, appropriately modern when we get to NYC. The dance arrangements by David Chase are polished and energetic. Spritely Matt Kopec (who reminded me of Danny Kaye) plays Buddy and is sweet, childlike and filled with energy. There was a number of cast substitutions opening night, with Walter Hobbs being played solidly by Kevin Rockower. Two other performances worth noting were Tyler Altomari as Buddy’s little brother, Michael and Jacqueline Grabois as Walter’s long suffering secretary, Deb.
As a musical, I was unimpressed with the music. The dancing was great, but not one song stays with you when you leave. I found the book equally weak, the conflicts shallow and heavily manufactured, the resolution obvious, predictable, unsatisfying. Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas entertainment for all ages; I love A Christmas Story, it appeals to kids and adults, but the book for Elf is only for kids with one adult joke involving Ray’s Pizza to sustain us. While overall I found the cast talented and polished, it often felt they were rushing the lines, punching the jokes too hard and the dialogue was often flat. There is also a very unnecessary, unrealistic love story between Buddy and Jovie (played winsomely by Kate Hennies.)
Elf continues at the Fabulous Fox through December 29th.