Elf at the Ordway
Need a little “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” this Christmas season? Looking for an overload like indulging in an entire plate of Christmas cookies? I’ve got just the thing: take someone who could use a little Christmas to the Broadway musical, “Elf,” showing through December at the Ordway Theater. You’ll come out smiling and laughing, stuffed with cozy feelings. Nothin’ wrong with that! Even I, the sometimes Broadway Musical grouch, will admit it’s delightful!
“Elf” is about a baby raised by Santa’s elves who takes until adulthood to learn that he’s actually human, then must go forth to find his real dad in New York City. Sound familiar? Will Ferrell’s movie version was a deadpan comic’s twist on a classic premise (boy raised by wolves, girl raised by wicked stepmother). His comic style was the schtick; the stage musical version is something else. Entirely.
This Buddy the Elf, played with irresistible charm by Matt Kopec, is a bundle of lanky boyish enthusiasm, busting with Christmas cheer. His regular encounters with big city cynicism are met with “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing real loud for all to hear,” and another snappy song and dance number bursts forth, and at the tiniest provocation.
If you’re a fan of traditional Broadway musicals – the kind that follow Musical Theater Rules (a couple of ballads and the rest are comedy and rhythm songs) – you’re going to love this, just for the hefty dose of snazzy swing tunes, topped off by tap dancing elves’ wink to the Rockettes.
“Elf” is proof that this kind of book musical still works, particularly in the hands of skilled writers like Thomas Meehan, Bob Martin, Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin. The story may be doofy, but the construction is solid, the music is catchy and tuneful and the lyrics are beautifully paired to the unfolding plot. It all fits and flows. In fact, the successful blend of all the show’s elements is its strongest point. The sets are dripping with snowflakes and moody lighting, for example, but they’re quite right, and they appear and disappear like Santa’s magic. It’s not just a matter of pulling things off technically (skating in Rockefeller Center!), it’s making all these complicated elements serve the emotional content present at that moment. I appreciated that.
There are more stars in this show. Connor Barth as the young Michael is an amazing talent. A pitch-perfect singer with a natural acting style. Don’t change a thing; you are well on your way to a lasting career. There’s a nice stage relationship between Barth and Julia Louise Hosack as his mother, Emily. She knits together loose ends, balances the credible and incredible, and sings like a dream.
I’ll give her a lot of the credit for helping us stick with the thinning plot at the end. We were not quite clapping desperately with “I believe, I believe!” falling from our lips, but another show starring an elfin character in green did come to mind.
I’ll take issue with one musical theater standard. The tag ending back at the North Pole could only work in a musical. Fun, yes, but otherwise completely superfluous.
“Elf” runs through December 30.