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Christmas spirit, holiday magic sorely lacking in ‘Elf the Musical’

Will Blum stars as Buddy childlike Christmas spirit-filled title character “Elf The Musical.” | © Amy Boyle Photography 2013

Will Blum stars as Buddy, the childlike, Christmas spirit-filled title character in “Elf The Musical.” | © Amy Boyle Photography 2013

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‘ELF THE MUSICAL’

Not recommended

When: To Dec. 15

Where: Cadillac Palace
Theatre, 151 W. Randolph

Tickets : $18-$97

Info: (800) 775-2000;
broadwayinchicago.com

Updated: April 14, 2014 4:47PM



St. Nicholas knows it’s entirely possible to craft a child-friendly Christmas story that doesn’t overdose on sugary, condescending simplicity and overwrought whimsy. Rudolph, the Grinch, heck even Frosty the Snowman stand as proof. “Elf the Musical” is not among this pantheon of holiday classics.

The so-sweet-you-need-an-insulin-shot-at-intermission musicalized version of the 2003 film isn’t wholly lacking in micro-twinkles of charm. But those elfin-sized moments are dwarfed by the show’s facile, unoriginal story, cut-rate production values and relentlessly syrupy simple-mindedness. “Elf,” it must be said, is also kind of creepy. This is, after all, the story of a 28-year-old man who behaves and thinks like an 8-year-old. Watching such a person romantically lock lips with a grown-up woman? It’s weird and icky, to use the technical terms.

Even Santa can’t catch a break in “Elf.” Take his sleigh. Please. Lavish spectacle isn’t necessary in order to tell a good story, but when the 11th-hour Christmas Eve crisis in your narrative centers on a magic flying sleigh, said transport shouldn’t look like reject prop from an elementary school pageant with a budget that allowed for magic markers or glitter glue but not both. Moreover, it should fly. Imagine running downstairs on Christmas morning expecting a pony and all you get is an off-brand Slanket. That’s approximately how much magic is on stage when poor Mr. Claus takes off.

As musicals go, “Elf” does boast an inoffensive score (composer Matthew Sklar’s music is pleasantly, generically cheery) and a clever dance number that highlights choreographer Connor Gallagher’s talent for crafting kick lines and such without making use of his dancers’ legs below the knee. But as directed by Sam Scalamoni, “Elf” lacks heart and honesty. It is one of those children’s shows that assumes children are feeble-minded and incapable of appreciating the slightest subtleties: Characters have the depth of line drawings. Crucial changes in characters — defining moments of redemption, reformation and enlightenment — aren’t earned, they just happen.

You can’t argue with the show’s overall premise — that “you can’t ruin Christmas, it’s all around you.” But through Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s book, that message is reduced to a “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” cliche (and that’s not a typo, it’s a song title.) That said, Meehan and Martin do inject some slivers of humor into the proceedings. Buddy the Elf’s outraged condemnation of a department store Santa (“You sit on a throne of lies!”) would make David Sedaris proud. A clueless children’s book publisher’s summation of a potential seasonal blockbuster — “It’s the Grinch! Only with tomatoes!” — evokes a hilarious cascade of images.

As Buddy, Will Blum has a sweet tenor, but he lacks the goofy charm that Will Ferrell brought to the movie. Minus that essential quality, Buddy the Elf isn’t endearing, he’s just disturbing. The musical just comes across as a cold, calculating attempt to cash in on Christmas.



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