When I heard that there was a stage musical of the movie Elf I was concerned. Will Ferrell, the star of the movie, is such a large presence in the film and his characterization of Buddy the elf is so integral to the success of the concept I couldn't easily imagine how another actor could effectively fill that role. Not only do you have to sell jokes that much of the audience is already familiar with, you have to sing, dance and give a larger-than-life performance that the theater demands. Could the 5th Avenue find a lead who could carry the show?
The short answer is, yes. Matt Owen, who plays Buddy, is excellent for the role. Not only does he have a big, theatrical singing voice but he fully inhabits the character's inexhaustible effervescent enthusiasm for, well, everything.
Santa, played with grumpy good humor by Sean G. Griffin, kicks things off with an amusing introductory scene establishing the story of how Buddy, a human child, came to the North Pole and was raised by Santa's elves. This leads into the big number "Christmastown," a hilarious crowd-pleaser that sets the tone for the rest of the show and showcases the strength of the rest of the cast and ensemble. Of particular note is Noah Barr, who plays Buddy's 12-year-old half-brother. As a young actor he has a decent singing voice and is authentic in his portrayal of the character Michael.
The production is not without its weak points. Kendra Kassebaum, who plays Buddy's love interest Jovie, could have done more with her role which was, admittedly, thin to begin with. Allen Fitzpatrick, as Buddy's father Walter Hobbs, is perfectly fine but lacks the Scrooge-like energy of James Caan from the movie. However, these shortcomings can easily be overlooked as the impressive staging takes you from the North Pole, to Central Park, and the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Singing and dancing is one thing but pulling off a musical number while skating on stage - the kids will love it.
Because of the way the story unfolds the second act isn't quite as fun as the first but it does begin with one of my favorite musical numbers from the show "Nobody Cares About Santa." How could you not like an ensemble of department store Santas (including the Jewish Santa) singing and dancing in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve?
One note of caution: If your kids still believe in Santa, or like mine, willingly suspend their disbelief, you may want to steer them away from the program, which has an essay detailing the history of Santa. It's a well-meaning effort that is interesting reading for adults but - I think unintentionally - takes the magic out of the myth.
For a night out, the 5th Avenue is a spectacular destination with its ornate Chinese decor. At an evening performance, the flashing and rotating marquee and the lights-draped trees along 5th Avenue make for a magical setting.
For younger kids I'd recommend a matinee; many of the smaller children at the evening performance I attended were either fast asleep or very tired as we headed home. Kids have to be at least four years old to attend.
So, should Elf - the Musical be your family's big night out? I say it's an unqualified yes.
If you go ...
When and where: ELF - The Musical plays through December 31. The show runs for 2 hours and 15 minutes and typically starts at either 7:30 or 8 p.m. in the evening; there are matinees every Saturday and Sunday starting at either 1:30 or 2 p.m. Check the 5th Avenue's calendar for specific times and dates.
Tickets: $67-$157. Buy online at 5th Avenue.
Parental Guidelines from the 5th Avenue
ELF – The Musical is a family show and is appropriate for all audience members over 4 years of age. Rated PG.
Adult Language: There is a little very mild adult language, including a reference to a children’s book as “Jingles the friggin’ pony.” One character abandons her diet to go out for chocolate, declaring, “Screw you, Jenny Craig!” Buddy’s new girlfriend offers him a deal: “You try to be less elf-y, I’ll try to be less bitchy.” There are also a couple of “hells” and “damns.”
Sexual References: None except the statement that Buddy was the result of his dad’s “secret love affair” while he was in college.
Ages: Children under 4 years of age, including babies in arms, will not be admitted.
Plan Your Visit: If you have any questions about the theater accommodations or services, please call 206-625-1900 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author: John Kubalak is a writer, teacher, volunteer coordinator, raconteur, and scalawag. He does not publish science fiction under the pseudonym Jonathan Black but he does publish a monograph on fatherhood, The Eclectic Dad. He has a son, a daughter, a beautiful wife (and a little dog too!) who are adorable, maddening, zany, and brilliant all at the same time.