BWW Reviews: ELF Spreads Cheer at Kennedy Center
Elf is a time machine.
The musical adaptation of the latter day holiday classic takes the audience on a trip that goes way beyond a whimsical view of the North Pole. This tuner (which premiered on Broadway during the 2010 season and has toured regularly since) is clearly set in a world untouched by politics, major disasters, reality TV, and reality in general.
And you know what? That's OK.
Now playing at the Kennedy Center through January 5, Elf succeeds in its very simple mission: bring the simple tale of a simple man to the stage and spread some Christmas cheer. It's bright, it's tinkly, it has snow, it has a curmudgeon who gets his heart warmed, it has hustle and bustle, and Santa. In other words, the creators threw in every Christmas trope they could into the two and a half hour running time.
Haven't seen the movie? No problem! Award-winning co-librettists Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) take a Cliff Notes approach to the film plot. They also keep the character development to a minimum, providing types rather than full-blown characters. The short-hand works, if only because of the simplistic nature of the piece - think a Muppet special, but with people.
Santa, during his down time at the North Pole, recounts the story of a baby who wanders into his toy sack and hitches a ride to Christmastown. The infant is raised by the elves and joins right in on the toy-making and joy-making that is a requirement at the Pole. Buddy keeps growing of course and ends up reluctantly leaving Christmastown to seek out his human father in the magical land of New York City. While in Manhattan, Buddy finds a strained father-son relationship, and a cynical love interest. This fish out of water has plenty to sort out in the Big Apple, along with leading elaborate song and dance numbers. And he gets to do it all before Christmas.
If you love the movie, or even have strong positive feelings about the movie, you will enjoy Elf the Musical. You can bring any member of your family and they will likely have a great time. If you look upon Scrooge or the Grinch before their personal epiphanies as heroes, then save your money and go find a nice production of The Santaland Diaries.
The show is also a time machine by way of the score. From the opening notes of the jazzy overture, I was taken back to my cast album collection's early to mid-1960s section, with sounds capturing the essence of Jerry Herman and Charles Strouse at their peak. Matthew Sklar's score for Elf throws in the requisite holiday spice for good measure - the jingle bells, very bright trumpets. After the overture, only "The Story of Buddy the Elf" is really a song that sticks with the ear. Sklar's lyricist Chad Beguelin saved up his real creativity for the linguistic roller coaster "Sparklejollytwinklejingley" for Buddy and the staff of Macy's.
It's been ten years now since Will Ferrell unleashed his man-child-elf Buddy onto the world in the film. His delivery of the quotable lines ("The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear") and his seemingly unforced innocence is captured for all to share in the 2003 movie. Taking up the role in the touring production is Will Blum who puts his own stamp upon Buddy and brings to the role a strong and expressive voice. He certainly makes the songs sound good and has a great chemistry with Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Jovie.
The supporting cast handles their roles well within the confines of the broad types they get to play: saucy secretary (Lanene Charters as Deb); workaholic boss/absentee dad (Larry Cahn as Walter); intensely bossy boss (Laurent Giroux as Mr. Greenway); and the affable and witty Santa (Ken Clement).
If you need a booster shot of Christmas cheer and like it syrupy and sweet, Elf is a new Christmas classic for you.