The perennial holiday favorite Elf the Musical is back in town, playing a limited run at the Theater at Madison Square Garden through December 27. Like a Christmas morning filled with pancakes and presents, the show is a delight from start to finish, and this winning production, directed by Sam Scalamoni, will put smiles on the faces of both children and adults alike.
Adapted from the 2003 Will Ferrell film, Elf tells the story of Buddy (Eric Petersen), an orphan boy raised as an elf in the North Pole after crawling into Santa's sleigh one Christmas Eve. Buddy has outgrown his place in Christmastown and is sent back to New York City with one crucial piece of information: the name of his biological father.
Buddy sets off to meet this Walter Hobbs (Tom Galantich), only to discover that Walter is completely devoid of the Christmas spirit. A high-powered publishing executive who has no time for his wife, Emily (Christiane Noll), and young son Michael (Joshua Colley), Walter finds himself at wit's end with the arrival of his weird illegitimate thirty-year-old man child, who still wears a bright-green elf suit. As Buddy tries to work himself into this newfound family, he also discovers love in the form of Jovie (Veronica J. Kuehn), a lonely department-store worker longing for companionship.
Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin's book culls the best lines from the movie while also smartly managing to distinguish it as its own entity. (No one does this better than Meehan, who accomplished similar feats with The Producers and Hairspray). The score, by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, is an impressive throwback to 1950s musicals with big brassy melodies that get stuck in your head (you can try to stop humming "Sparklejollytwinklejingley" days later, but it won't quit). It's still surprising that the quartet didn't get nominated for awards when the original production opened on Broadway in 2010.
The actors have the unenviable task of playing to the massive venue, which, in both look and feel, registers as more of an airplane hanger than the ideal spot for mounting musicals. Yet they do it with assurance, delivering unique and charming performances that, like the material itself, aren't carbon copies of their screen predecessors. Petersen is charming as Buddy, whose innocence shines through in spades despite an unusually unkempt aesthetic. Kuehn is his equal as the disenchanted Jovie. Particularly impressive is her theater-filling rendition of the second-act torch song "Never Fall in Love." Galantich is a believable Scrooge, while Noll and Colley provide fine support as his neglected wife and son.
Scalamoni's production isn't skimping on the holiday cheer; rather, it completes it with a picture-book set (by Christine Peters), Crayola-colored costumes (by Gregg Barnes), and bright lighting (by Paul Miller). Connor Gallagher's choreography joyfully fills the stage, underscored by the surprisingly large 16-member live orchestra, conducted by Nate Patten (playing the original Doug Besterman orchestrations). It even snows confetti in the house at one point — a nice touch for the ultimate crowd-pleaser.