It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The silent night is broken only by silver bells, little drummer boys and millions more rockin’ around the Christmas tree. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, perhaps even a white one, and Santa Claus is coming to town. But go and tell it on a mountain, because Christmas comes but once a year. So deck the halls, let it snow, and have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Now, if you needed an extra shot of bourbon in your eggnog just to get through that paragraph, don’t fret. You’re apparently in good company.
From the underpaid Santas of the city malls to the overworked executives of its teeming skyscrapers, New York has apparently lost its Christmas spirit in Elf The Musical, which jingled its way to the Kennedy Center this week just in time for the holidays.
Elf The Musical (adapted from the New Line Cinema flick of 2003), is the story of Buddy (Will Blum), an orphan at the North Pole who Santa and his team have raised as an elf. When Buddy discovers the truth of his childhood circumstances, he sets off, with Santa’s blessing, for New York City in search of his real family and true identity.
What Buddy discovers is a city entirely bereft of the North Pole’s Christmas cheer. Much to his surprise, New York City is home to 8 million Christmas curmudgeons who have lost their Christmas spirit and – gasp – their belief in Santa Claus. Among them are his father Walter (Larry Cahn) and a retail worker-turned-love-interest named Jovie (Lindsay Nicole Chambers).
Unfortunately for Buddy, Walter has neither time nor patience for Buddy’s zeal. Moreover, he’s reasonably dubious that a college romance brought Buddy into the world nearly 30 years past without his knowledge. Buddy has better luck convincing Jovie that he deserves a chance, winning a date that commits him to a relationship for which he’s entirely unprepared.
Buddy is undeterred. He bumbles through the city with reckless cheer, forcing mirth and joy on a number of unsuspecting Grinches. His evangelical gusto is matched only by the humbuggery of the big city, which presents a threat of its own. For you see, Santa’s sleigh no longer relies on magical reindeer (thanks to PETA, we’re told), but rather Christmas spirit. With holiday cheer in short supply, it’s up to Buddy the elf to save Christmas.
What remains is somewhat of a mixed bag. First and foremost, Elf The Musical makes for some good children’s theater. The colors are bright, the Santa jolly, and the jokes entirely family-friendly. There are big songs and brilliant sets, and Will Blum’s Buddy is loveable and slapsticky enough to keep the little ones glued to their chairs. The writers have also gone to lengths to keep the show light and current, outfitting Santa with everything from a DVR to an Ipad and throwing in references like “Amazon.com” to keep a modern (especially young) audience engaged.
There are also some big numbers to help bring the spirit of broadway to life on stage. Lindsay Nicole Chambers’s “Never Fall in Love” is big and bold, and the ensemble work “Nobody Cares About Santa” brings the show back to life post-intermission. The sight of multiple Santas, even more elves and the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center on stage at the Kennedy Center is also sure to help the audience swoon with holiday spirit.
Elf the Musical
Closes January 5, 2014
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20566
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $35 – $150
Tuesdays thru Sundays,
including Christmas day
That said, Elf The Musical isn’t likely to become a Christmas tradition for everyone. The musical numbers are polished and pretty, but not particularly memorable. There are some hummable tunes, sure, but “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” in the first act probably won’t top the list around the house next to “White Christmas” or “Jingle Bells” for tree trimming season.
The script didn’t leave a whole lot of room at the inn for anyone of majority age, either. Buddy’s infectious spirit at the front of the show turns grating as his romp across New York carries on, at times leaving me siding with the various Scrooge-like characters of Elf the Musical over the mirthful minion from the North Pole. A rare “just for the adults in the room” joke at the end of the show made me wish there could have been more of that throughout.
All told, Elf The Musical is a great piece of theater to share with the little ones (no pun intended) around Christmas. But, if you have a touch of the Grinch already, you may want to steel yourself with an eggnog or two before coming out.
The national tour of Elf The Musical. Based on the movie Elf . Music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin . Book by Thomas Meehan and and Bob Martin . Directed by Sam Scalamoni . Choreography by Connor Gallagher . Features Will Blum, Larry Cahn, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Lanene Charters, Ken Clement, Larent Giroux, Julia Louise Hosack, Noah Marlowe, Kevyn Morrow, Jen Bechter, Darren Biggart, Giovanni Bonaventura, Erick Buckley, Elizabeth Burton, Audrey Cardwell, Drew Franklin, George Franklin, Karen Hyland, Paul Ianniello, Eric Anthony Johnson, Chandon Jones, Drew King, Julie Kotarides, Andrew Kruep, and Emily Larger. Presented by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Jon Boughtin.