BWW Review: Stage Adaptation of ELF Lacks the Magic Mojo of the Movie
In the Broadway musical ELF, one of the characters says, "Lower your expectations and you won't be disappointed." Perhaps audiences attending the touring production of ELF playing this week at The Durham Performing Arts Center should heed that advice.
Based on the 2003 movie, ELF tells the story of Buddy, a human raised by elves in The North Pole. When Buddy learns he is not actually an elf, he sets off on a journey to New York to find his biological father, a surly book publisher who is on Santa's naughty list. The movie featured a stellar cast including Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, and Will Ferrell as Buddy. And according to 'Forbes,' 'Entertainment Weekly' and The British Film Institute, ELF is one of the best Christmas movies of all time.
So you might expect that a stage adaptation of ELF would follow suit. Nope. Yes, there are some big song and dance numbers, but sadly the staged version lacks the mojo that made its movie predecessor work.
First, the show falls short in recreating some of the movie's more memorable moments, which may be disappointing to die-hard film fans. The mailroom scene is gone. The revolving door scene is gone, although this may have been more of a technical problem than an omission since there appeared to be a revolving door built into the set. The angry elf scene between Buddy and pretentious children's writer Miles Finch is gone. And the scene in which Buddy hears Jovie sing for the first time while she is showering is completely eliminated.
On the upside, there are a few onstage moments inspired by the film that provide some nice visuals, including a scene between Jovie and Buddy in Rockefeller Center and a scene towards the end of the show wherein Santa's sleigh soars high above the stage.
Second, the relationship between Buddy and his dad, which is central to the plot, is never fully developed. Yes, John Adkison, the actor who portrays Buddy's father Walter in this production, is an adept performer. He proves that during the two big production numbers "In the Way" and "The Story of Buddy the Elf." But Adkison doesn't have nearly enough stage time or interaction with Eric Williams (Buddy) to make this piece of the puzzle work. Adkison and Williams need an additional song or scene or something to make their father-son journey believable.
Conversely, some of the more tender, authentic onstage moments occur between Caitlin Lester-Sams, who plays Walter's wife Emily, and Grady Miranda, who plays Buddy's 12-year old stepbrother. These two are especially moving during the song "I'll Believe in You," in which they are drafting a letter to Santa, and their mother-son bond is credible.
Notable too is the standout performance of Galyana Castillo as Deb, Walter's assistant. Her laugh is infectious and her energy indisputable. Also, one to watch is Paloma D'Auria. Her Jovie may not have Christmas spirit, but she sure can belt out a tune. In fact, her rendition of "Never Fall in Love (with an Elf)" is one of the show's highlights.
Arguably what makes the film version of ELF work is Will Ferrell. Like it or hate it, Ferrell's full-on, all-in, fearless, comedic performance is unforgettable. And for the stage version to work even a smidge, the actor slipping into Ferrell's pointy, elf shoes and tights has to be equally as captivating if not more so.
And Eric Williams might just be that guy. Like Ferrell, Williams is the quintessential man-child who holds nothing back. He can also sing and dance. In fact, his triple threat capabilities, boyish charm, and knack for breathing new life into this irresistible, iconic role, just might make this reimagined version of ELF worthy of a visit to Christmastown. That said, you might have to suspend any preconceived notions or expectations to enjoy the trip.
ELF runs through Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center with a special autism-friendly performance on Saturday morning. Note, all performances will go on as planned this weekend. For more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/.