Review: "Elf: The Musical" brings early holiday greetings

CorrespondentNovember 13, 2013 

  • Details

    What: “Elf: The Musical”

    When: 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

    Where: Memorial Hall, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South Street, Raleigh

    Cost: $35 - $100

    Info: 919-996-8700 or dukeenergycenterraleigh.com

If you’re one of those enthusiastic sorts who like to start the Christmas season in mid-November, you could do a lot worse than “Elf: The Musical,” playing through Sunday at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium.

Based on the 2003 holiday insta-classic movie starring Will Ferrell, “Elf” tells the story of Buddy, a human child who has been raised by Santa’s elves in the North Pole. Buddy’s height differential has its advantages – he’s the greatest power forward in the history of elf basketball. But it’s clear he doesn’t belong, so he sets out to New York City to find his real dad.

As a big, splashy Broadway musical, the story of Buddy the elf works pretty well. Funny and sweet, it’s a successful modern entry into the pantheon of holiday tales, and the film’s essentially goofy spirit transposes nicely into song and dance.

The music, by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, is lively and fizzy, with the usual big choruses and clever in-rhymes. As Buddy, lead performer Will Blum delivers the goods throughout with eccentric phrasings and a booming tenor when he needs it. Lindsay Nicole Chambers, as love interest Jovie, finds the right tone as well in her big scenes toward the end.

The ensemble players earn their paychecks in the North Pole dance numbers by executing some energetic choreography – on their knees. (They’re elves, you see, with little curly-toe shoes on their kneecaps.) There’s also a good bit of what you might call ensemble juggling, as the elves toss toys and ornaments across the workshop. Light and scenic design work together to provide a sparkly, twinkly backdrop.

The script has plenty of good jokes rooted in the story, about polar-bear tipping and elf nutrition. Also watch for one great bit involving Buddy’s proficiency with Christmas bells. But the script also has a discouraging number of lame and dated pop culture lines about Al Gore and Charlie Sheen. Too many lines fall flat, and several dead spots prompted booming silences in the opening night performance.

“Elf” also lacks the slightly manic, slightly dangerous tone that made the movie so much fun. Blum’s lead performance clearly echoes Ferrell’s in cadence and tone, but it’s softer, sweeter, safer.

Kids will have a good time with this version of “Elf,” and there’s enough to keep the grown-ups attentive. Overtly commercial movie-to-musical adaptations are often hard to swallow (“Shrek”), but sometimes surprisingly delicious (“Legally Blonde”). “Elf” is sweet and sugary, and goes down just fine.

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