BWW Review: ELF the musical Colors the Stage in Tinsel
In 2003, a Christmas movie starring Will Ferrell was released in theaters. Fifteen years later, Elf has officially secured its place in the holiday traditions of millions; however, this Christmas comedy might have been better left untouched by Broadway producers, as Elf the musical under delivers on the promise of a Will Ferrell caliber classic.
Both loosely and heavily based on the movie, the musical begins with the story of Buddy the Elf (Eric Williams) - an orphan human who finds himself in the North Pole and is raised by elves. When Buddy, now double the size of the other elves, finds out he is human, he is set to find his book-publishing father, Walter Hobbs (John Adkison), in New York City.
The only thing that stands out more than the Elmo in Times Square is Buddy, dressed from head to toe in a green and yellow elf costume. Speaking of costumes, the brightly colored attire in the production were a high point, visually pleasing and logical displayed from scene to scene.
Unfortunately, not all aspects of the musical were as logical, like the decision to, at times, base the script solely off the movie and, at other times, completely veer off course. For the record, I support the veering off course writing.
When Buddy is taken to the Hobbs' residence, Buddy makes a deal to fix Michael's (Grady Miranda) model wind turbine for class if Michael and his mom Emily (Caitlin Lester-Sams) write their letters to Santa. From this, the mother and son duet "I'll Believe in You" - a beautiful rendition of a song that showcases what Christmas is all about. None of this is in the movie, and it was the first time in the show that I saw the potential for a real work of artistic achievement.
Unfortunately, the rest of the first act teeters between the identity crisis of being a recapitulation of the movie and being its own work of art. By act two, you are expecting the same unfulfilled promises as the first, but the second act focuses less on the dialog of the movie and more on the heart of what it all means.
It's in the second act where the story comes together. Feeling pressure from his family to spend time with them and pressure from his boss to pitch another book idea, Walter snaps at Buddy, disowning him and wishing to never see him again. Alone, Buddy has forgotten about his date with Jovie (Paloma D'auria), a worker at the department store that Buddy has taken an awkward liking to.
With Walter's and Buddy's worlds coming crumbling down, will the two of them ever right the wrongs before Christmas? Well, even The Grinch has a happy ending, so I'll leave the narrative here.
The show's highest points come in the choreography by Connor Gallagher, Nancy Renee Braun, and Elyse Niederee. In true Broadway fashion, jazz hands and time steps are brought out at different points in the show, but these are only the tip of the North Pole iceberg. From how city pedestrians move aimlessly in sync to how worn out Santas high kick in a Chinese restaurant, the dancing adds what the movie couldn't.
It should be noted that the only dancing scene from the movie (the mailroom of the office building) did not make it to this production, and for good reason. It simply could not stand up to the litmus of the rest of the show's choreography.
Now, I'm not advocating for Elf the ballet, but I wish the script writers had been as free and willing to deviate from the story in tangential, purposeful ways as the choreographers and costume designers were. Does it matter if Walter or his wife Emily got the DNA test to determine if Buddy was actually Walter's son? No, but that was the type of unnecessary edits that lacked meaning and accompanied this script to the stage.
I don't want to sound like Scrooge with this review, because the show, as a whole, has enough cheer to make even the grumpiest crack a few smiles. But the missed collaboration between various creative teams produced a show that is as seamless as a gift-wrapped basketball.
To see or not to see score: 5/9; Approved Show