This is getting to be a tradition at the 5th Avenue this time of year – putting on a stage version of a popular Christmas movie. A couple of years ago, they did “White Christmas,” last year it was the world premiere of musical version of “The Christmas Story” – which is playing Broadway this Christmas. And now we have “Elf: The Musical,” based on the much-loved (at least in some circles) Will Ferrell movie.
So how is it? I think the answer is best summed up by the motto of the show’s love interest Jovie, who explains her philosophy of life this way: lower your expectations, and you won’t be so disappointed.
If you go in expecting it to be as funny as the movie or as musically rich as, say, “White Christmas,” you’re just setting yourself up. But if all you’re really after is a brightly colored Christmas-y show, with Christmas trees and Christmas elves, a Macy’s North Pole, a real Santa’s workshop and, of course, Santa and his flying sleigh – then Elf: The Musical is for you. It wasn’t so much for me, nor my 12-year-old niece either.
If you’ve never seen the movie, or have simply forgotten, Buddy the Elf is a 6’2, 30-year-old elf who can’t seem to get the hang of making Santa’s toys. It turns out he’s not an elf at all but a human who stowed away in Santa’s sack as an infant and was raised at the North Pole. When he finds that out, he goes in search of his Dad in New York City – who of course doesn’t believe in Santa. His Dad’s new family, a stepmom and a stepbrother, also don’t believe, until about two-thirds of the way through the show when they come around.
As for how it compares to the movie, it’s tough to replicate the distinctive charm of Will Ferrell on stage. But Matt Owen does a decent enough job, I’d say. Some of the favorite funny bits from the movie are left out – the burp scene and the singing in the shower scene – but there’s still the fight with the fake Santa at Macy’s and of course, maple syrup on spaghetti.
The best thing about the entire production for me was the set design, which pays homage to those charmingly crude Rankin and Bass TV Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Elf plays through December 31st at the Fifth Avenue Theater.