ELF by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin (book), Chad Beguelin (lyrics) and Matthew Sklar (music) – based on the screenplay by David Berenbaum – Al Hirschfeld Theatre – Broadway Musical Theater Review

by Cindy Pierre on November 17, 2010

in Theater-New York

Post image for ELF by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin (book), Chad Beguelin (lyrics) and Matthew Sklar (music) – based on the screenplay by David Berenbaum – Al Hirschfeld Theatre – Broadway Musical Theater Review

ANOTHER MOVIE FINDS ITS WAY TO BROADWAY

In 2003, Elf, a delightful Christmas comedy with dark undertones – about the adventures of an overgrown elf that discovers that he’s actually a human – was released in movie theaters to critical acclaim.  Now on Broadway, the musical version of Elf is a sugared down version of the David Berenbaum-penned movie, bereft of all the edgy material that made it nicety, a combination of nice and nasty.  Though this production is well-executed with good choreography and a charming lead performance by Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, it doesn’t live up to the original work that inspired it.

Although it’s sure to amuse the kiddies, Elf lacks all of the boldness and shrewdness that made the film spicy.  Segments and characters have been omitted to make the show as syrupy as…well, syrup, Buddy’s food topping of choice.  The setup is pretty much the same.  Once Buddy finds out that his elfin family, played by full size actors on their kness, are not blood, he hugs Santa (George Wendt) goodbye and is off to New York to find Walter Hobbs (Mark Jacoby), his naughty, children’s-book-producing father.  From there, Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s book deviates from the movie and skirts past anything that might be considered non-PC, like Buddy getting drunk in the mailroom and the character Miles Finch, a writer of short stature whose presence provides laughs that would be inappropriate in this adaptation.

Instead, this presentation amps up all of the child’s play.  David Rockwell’s scenic design, though impressive in its illustration of New York high-rises, continues to be toy-like after Buddy leaves color-saturated Christmastown.  Everything looks too fake and manufactured for this reviewer. Though Arcelus’ naiveté is sweetly disarming, all of the original innuendos have disappeared.  The writers occasionally try to shock it up, as when Buddy sees Jovie (Amy Spanger) for the first time and the Macy’s Manager (Michael Mandell) tells Buddy to “calm down, calm down.  Don’t go all Charlie Sheen on me.” But there are too few such instances to make it adult-friendly.

Despite the differences, the end result is produced without a hitch.  Under Casey Nicholaw’s direction, there are smooth and quick scene transitions and smart dance numbers.  Natasha Katz’ excellent lighting design flatter the ensemble, and Zachary Boroway’s exciting projection design makes a talking whale come alive and Santa’s sled zip by.  Matthew Skylar’s music and Chad Beguelin’s lyrics are a modestly successful collaboration, with Act Two’s “The Story of Buddy the Elf” as the highlight of the show.

Elf may have top-of-the-line production values, but if you’re looking for the same feeling you may have had with the movie, you’ll find that it’s too watered-down.

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Joan Marcus

Elf
scheduled to close January 2, 2011 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://www.elfmusical.com

ELF by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin (Book), Chad Beguelin (lyrics) and Matthew Sklar (music) – based on the screenplay by David BerenbaumAl Hirschfeld Theatre – Broadway Musical Theater Review

ANOTHER MOVIE FINDS ITS WAY TO BROADWAY

In 2003, ELF, a delightful Christmas comedy with dark undertones – about the adventures of an overgrown elf that discovers that he’s actually a human – was released in movie theaters to critical acclaim. Now on Broadway, the musical version of ELF is a sugared down version of the David Berenbaum-penned movie, bereft of all the edgy material that made it nicety, a combination of nice and nasty. Though this production is well-executed with good choreography and a charming lead performance by Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, it doesn’t live up to the original work that inspired it.

Although it’s sure to amuse the kiddies, ELF lacks all of the boldness and shrewdness that made the film spicy. Segments and characters have been omitted to make the show as syrupy as…well, syrup, Buddy’s food topping of choice. The setup is pretty much the same. Once Buddy finds out that his elfin family, played by full size actors on their kness, are not blood, he hugs Santa (George Wendt) goodbye and is off to New York to find Walter Hobbs (Mark Jacoby), his naughty, children’s-book-producing father. From there, Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin‘s book deviates from the movie and skirts past anything that might be considered non-PC, like Buddy getting drunk in the mailroom and the character Miles Finch, a writer of short stature whose presence provides laughs that would be inappropriate in this adaptation.

Instead, this presentation amps up all of the child’s play. David Rockwell‘s scenic design, though impressive in its illustration of New York high-rises, continues to be toy-like after Buddy leaves color-saturated Christmastown. Everything looks too fake and manufactured for this reviewer. Though Arcelus’ naiveté is sweetly disarming, all of the original innuendos have disappeared. The writers occasionally try to shock it up, as when the Macy’s Manager (Michael Mandell) tells Buddy to “calm down, calm down. Don’t go all Charlie Sheen on me” when he sees Jovie (Amy Spanger) for the first time, but there are too few instances of this to make it adult-friendly.

Despite the differences, the end result is produced without a hitch. Under Casey Nicholaw‘s direction, there are smooth and quick scene transitions and smart dance numbers. Natasha Katz‘ excellent lighting design flatter the ensemble, and Zachary Boroway‘s exciting projection design makes a talking whale come alive and Santa’s sled zip by. Matthew Skylar‘s music and Chad Beguelin‘s lyrics are a modestly successful collaboration, with Act Two’s “The Story of Buddy the Elf” as the highlight of the show.

ELF may have top-of-the-line production values, but if you’re looking for the same nuances that are found in the movie, you’ll find that it’s all lick and no bite.

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Joan Marcus

Elf

scheduled to close January 2, 2011 at time of publication

for tickets, visit http://www.elfmusical.com

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