If youre 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 Raleighs 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 Santas elves in the North Pole. Buddys height differential has its advantages hes the greatest power forward in the history of elf basketball. But its clear he doesnt 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, its a successful modern entry into the pantheon of holiday tales, and the films 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. (Theyre elves, you see, with little curly-toe shoes on their kneecaps.) Theres 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 Buddys 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. Blums lead performance clearly echoes Ferrells in cadence and tone, but its softer, sweeter, safer.
Kids will have a good time with this version of Elf, and theres 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.