Fort Worth — As Christmas movies in this millennium go, 2003’s Elf is still the one to beat—especially if you prefer your sticky-sweet tempered with humor that’s heavy on the goofy, with a sprinkling of wit. The musical version, a non-Equity tour of which is currently camped out at Bass Performance Hall presented by Performing Arts Fort Worth, leaves a similar impression.
As Christmas musicals go, Elf the Musical is cute without being overly gooey and eye-roll-inducing; the movie’s humor is there. Attribute that to book adapters Thomas Meehan (Annie, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone). Add to that infectious music by Matthew Sklar and clever lyrics by Chad Beguelin (both did those same jobs for The Wedding Singer musical), and you’ve got a holiday hit. Expect it to start appearing on local theater seasons next year.
When Buddy (Eric Williams) finds out that he’s not an actual elf—he was accidentally taken by Santa when he crawled into the big guy’s toy sack one year—he heads to New York City to find his real family. All the wackiness ensues as Buddy struggles to be loved by his hard-nosed editor father, Walter (Jesse Sharp). His new stepmom Emily (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) and her son Michael (Tyler Altomari, rotating with Harper S. Brady), have an easier time of accepting Buddy.
Along the way, Buddy falls in love with cynical Jovie (Maggie Anderson), who works at Macy’s Santaland, where Buddy is assumed to be an employee. (I’d love to see Buddy and Crumpet of David Sedaris’ famous story in a mash-up sometime.)
There are a lot of fun numbers, especially in the opening sequence with the other elves, in which the actors perform on their knees (choreography by Conor Gallagher; direction for the tour by Sam Scalamoni; Casey Nicholaw directed and choreographed the original Broadway production in 2011). The ensemble could be a little tighter, but the performances from the leads are adequate—which yes, is a backhanded compliment.
I didn’t see Sebastian Arcelus, who originated the musical role of Buddy, but Williams’ take on the man who’s three feet taller than the real elves goes in a different direction than Will Ferrell’s, which is fine. Good, actually. Where Ferrell played him as a big ol’ naïve goofball, Williams’ Buddy is notably more flamboyant with the physical comedy, voice and mannerisms—to the point that you feel sorry for Jovie. Is she one of those women who are always falling for gay men?
But, that’s our own stupid human projection. If you consider a guy growing up in an environment where everyone is silly-happy all the time and there is no “standard of masculinity”—Santa’s just too darned jolly for that; and assembling toys probably isn’t the butchest of factory jobs—Williams’ portrayal works.
In the end, it’s easy to imagine Jovie falling for Buddy. He requires much less maintenance than a bad-boy.
You’d have to be a cotton-headed ninnymuggins not to enjoy Elf the Musical, which twists the fish-out-of-water narrative into a heartwarming story about finding time for family.