All Christmas stories — beginning with the original and perhaps peaking with Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” — are essentially the same. In essence they boil down to this: Man’s inhumanity to man is exposed, but somewhere along the way, and after much suffering, a miraculous transformation takes place and humanity is restored.
‘ELF THE MUSICAL’
When: Through Jan. 7
Where: Paramount Theater, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
Tickets: $36 – $74
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission
Of course the variations on this story are all but infinite, and they range from the ridiculous to the sublime. “Elf The Musical,” clearly designed to appeal to audiences of all ages, ranks somewhere on the irritatingly-playful-meets-loopily-sentimental level. But as hard as it tries — and as elaborately tricked out and exuberantly performed as it may be in its grand-scale Paramount Theatre production — it can’t overcome its essentially annoying quality. Were it pared down to one hour it might possess a certain heartwarming charm. But as a full-length spectacle (and no one can do them better than the Paramount, as its team demonstrated in such recent productions as “Sweeney Todd,” “Million Dollar Quartet” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”) it outstays its welcome, even if the actors, designers, special effects masters and musicians pull out all the stops.
With a Noo Yawk-centric book by Thomas Meehan (who even briefly references his earlier work, “Annie”) and Bob Martin, serviceable music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics (that range from the clever to the banal) by Chad Beguelin, “Elf,” based on the 2003 film, is about one of Santa’s fish-out-of-water elves, Buddy (gangly, graceful, thoroughly goofy Kyle Adams, who possesses a winning cluelessness, boundless energy and smile-inducing resilience). As an infant, Buddy crawled into Santa’s toy sack and ended up being raised as an elf in the toymaker’s North Pole workshop. By the time he is 17, however, Buddy has reached a height of more than six feet, and he finally learns that he is really human, that his mother died years earlier, and that his father never knew his college girlfriend had become pregnant and given birth to him.
Santa (a deftly droll Roger Mueller), already worried about waning Christmas spirit, sends Buddy (still dressed in his outlandish green velvet outfit) to New York, where his real father, Walter Hobbs (Michael Accardo), is a successful children’s book publisher and cranky workaholic. His wife, Emily (Lara Filip), and young son, Michael (the very talented, rich-voiced Oliver Boomer), are suffering the consequences of his emotional detachment.
Buddy is hardly welcomed by Walter, who believes he is a simple nutcase, and when the oversized “elf” is sent off to Macy’s to work in the store’s North Pole display, his enthusiasm is not entirely appreciated, nor is his unmasking of the fake Santa working there. Along the way, Buddy falls head over heels for Jovie (Samantha Pauly), a cynical-about-love Los Angeles transplant who is initially repelled by his exceedingly quirky, relentlessly upbeat spirit. (Pauly, who has a most winning voice, does a fine job with the show’s best song, “Never Fall in Love.” Coming in a close second is the touching mother-son number, “I’ll Believe in You,” between Filip and Boomer.)
The show, directed and choreographed with immense energy by Amber Mak, includes knee-high, Munchkin-like elves, projection trickery, tap dancing with electrified candy canes, and even a bit of ice skating. There are time-shifting references to both Etch-a-Sketch toys and iPads. There are a few sexual innuendos that will fly right over kids’ heads. Santa talks about how worried he is that his sleigh, once driven by reindeer (now “banned by PETA”), now depends on the waning power of the world’s Christmas spirit. And while this almost triggers a Tinkerbell moment, instead (spoiler alert here) we are treated to a Mary Poppins-style sleigh ride and a storm of white snow that function as the show’s deus ex machina moment.
Suffice it to say, Buddy the outcast is eventually welcomed into his human family and pairs up happily with Jovie, Walter sees the light and embraces his wife and two sons, and Santa continues to be appreciated.
But here’s the best news of all: Soon the Paramount will produce “Cabaret,” followed by “Once” (April 25-June 3, 2018), the wonderfully sophisticated Tony Award-winning musical set in a Dublin pub, where the actors play their own instruments and dance up a storm.