There is a point in the musical “Elf” where you find yourself so worn down by its good nature that you find you have an inexplicable smile on your face in spite of the show’s general mediocrity.
The musical is based on the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy and is now playing at the Fox Theatre through Dec. 29. The story of a human raised by Santa’s elves and then sent back out into the world to find his real father really only worked as a movie because of Ferrell’s comedic genius.
To the credit of Matt Kopec, who takes on the role of Buddy the Elf in the musical, he doesn’t try to replicate Ferrell’s shtick and injects the character with his own, Martin-Short-esque energy.
Buddy travels to New York City where he meets his grumpy, business-executive father, Walter (Matthew Alan Smith), who spends most of his time at work neglecting his wife, Emily (Jane Bruce), and son, Michael (Tyler Altomari). The rest of the show plays out with Buddy subjecting this family to his relentless Christmas cheer.
Buddy also gets a love interest in the form of Jovie (Kate Hennies), a cynical department store employee. Probably the show’s biggest crime is how it wastes Hennies, who has a great voice but isn’t given much to work with aside from the lame number “Never Fall in Love.”
While the movie was funny thanks to Ferrell’s sheer will, there just really aren’t that many honest-to-goodness jokes in the script outside of a fun little prologue by Santa (Gordon Gray). So then the show’s only hope rests with the music, which, at best, is a mixed bag.
There’s just not a lot of great songwriting happening on Broadway these days and for some reason, the philosophy seems to be that more is more. There are a couple of decent songs here like “A Christmas Song” and “Nobody Cares About Santa,” but the rest is just so much filler.
The draggy first act easily could have lost about three numbers and been just fine, but I think these songwriters get so enamored with their own work that no one can pull the trigger on a hard edit.
“Elf” the movie also featured actual Christmas carols, which would have done quite a bit to liven up the musical. It’s an almost unforgivable oversight as a couple of rousing Christmas favorites that exist safely in the public domain sprinkled in with the stronger original songs would have made “Elf” quite the holiday treat. But then there’s probably not much you can do when your songwriters are worried about getting upstaged by “Jingle Bells.”
In spite of all of its faults, this show never gives up, and thanks to the energetic cast, some fantastic set design, and the charitable spirit of the season, it’s impossible to hate this show.
Kids especially will get a kick out of Buddy’s one-note antics and the show’s message of love and acceptance is an easy one to rally around this time of year.
Now had “Elf” been playing in July, its shortcomings might have been more glaring. But hey, it’s Christmas and if you can’t smile at a grown man dressed as an elf in December, you might as well retire to your manor and shout “Bah-humbug!” at passing carolers.
“Elf” is playing at the Fox Theatre through Dec. 29. For tickets, call (314)-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.