The successful holiday run that the musical version of the film “Elf” had at the Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway for Christmas 2010 was expected by many to lead to a return for the Christmas season this year and, perhaps, for years ahead. The show didn’t come back this season, but the recording of the score with its original cast is here in its stead. It may not be quite as much fun as seeing the show live – what mere audio recording can be? – but it stands on its own two green felt booted feet and delivers a good 47 minute listen.
It uses the basic story from the 2003 film that starred Will Ferrell as a human boy raised by Santa’s elves as one of their own until he outgrows the workshop at the north pole. But book writers Tom Meehan (“Hairspray,” “The Producers”) and Bob Martin (the man in the chair in “The Drowsy Chaperone” which he co-wrote) added some schmaltz and a number of slots for nifty songs. The team of composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin took full advantage of those opportunities.
The score is peppered with peppy production numbers including a tongue-twister titled “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” that doesn’t quite out do “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” but is every bit as bright and lively as the scene requires. It’s infectious rhythms and easily assimilated melodic lines are matched in their ability to put a smile on the face of kids and adults in the audience by other high energy toppers as “Christmastown,” “The Story of Buddy The Elf” and “(Just Sing) A Christmas Song.”
Beguelin throws some intriguing rhymes into his lyrics which are included in the well illustrated booklet. It helps you catch such gems as this about growing up in “Christmastown”:
“I feel sad for people who have to grow up human – I’ve never met a human but I can help assumin’ they’d want to be exactly like me and have Christmas all year through.”
“Life is just so Christmas-y its hard to grow up callous. Who could look at Gingerbread and frown? And Since I love St. Nick and the Aurora Borealis, it’s clear that I belong in Christmastown.”
The second act opener is a particular joy. “Nobody Cares About Santa” is sung by a group of newly unemployed department store Santas drowning their sorrows (in a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan) on Christmas eve. This includes lines like
“I Never Knew such disrespect could ever have existed. No wonder this whole city has been naughty listed” and “Even little children think that Santa’s overrated – I kinda get the feeling that New York is Jaded!”
The booklet benefits from a synopsis of the musical explaining the function of each song in the telling of the story. It also has “Liner Notes.” (Does anyone remember when music came on long playing 12 inch diameter phonograph records which had to be placed in a “liner” to protect their grooves? These “liners” were great places to print informative notes!) Here it is a two-page encomium by none other than Sheldon Harnick praising all aspects of the project.
He lauds the effort for almost any imaginable virtue including “…Hard as it is to believe in today’s theater, you won’t hear one obscenity.” Technically, he’s correct on that. Beguelin even manages to communicate how childlike elf-man “Buddy” became a father without any crudities that might concern parents who bring young children into the theater. In the finale he has “Buddy” sing “I’ve got a wife and I’m singing and we did a special kind of hug I’d never heard about before and when it was over I was singing and now we’ve got a kid and so I’m Siiiingggginnnnggg!”
The cast is led by Sebastian Arcelus who has had plenty of opportunities to brighten up a Broadway stage but has usually done so as a replacement. He was a replacement Fiyero in “Wicked” and a replacement Bob Gaudio in “Jersey Boys.” His only opportunity thus far to originate a role came in the short lived mess of a jukebox musical based on the Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations.” Here he takes full advantage of his big break and is a delight all through the piece.
I know that I’m not the only one who can be brought under the spell of this high-energy, up-tempo seasonal offering. My grandchildren, ages 5 and 7, requested repeated playings. Now, that’s a testimonial!