It almost takes a miracle to transform a modern piece of art into a Christmas standard. Between “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” there’s not much room for new holiday classics. Yet somehow Will Ferrell’s “Elf” has become this century’s quintessential Christmas movie (apologies to “Love Actually” and “The Polar Express” fans).
Broadway has tried to double down on the success of “Elf.” After a New York debut in 2010 and 2012 revival, “Elf: The Musical” has toured regularly during the holidays. The show’s return to Boston runs through Dec. 10 at the Wang Theatre.
The musical’s biggest hurdle is overcoming the absence of Ferrell, who elevated an average script to a consistently hilarious film. This edition’s Buddy the elf, played by Erik Gratton, doesn’t have Ferrell’s rare talent for exploding a scene with a single facial expression or bit of gawky slapstick. But Gratton’s version has magic. He plays the part like an oversized Don Knotts with a the dash of Jack Black, which, surprisingly, can be winning combination.
Looking to give the show some star power, the production features George Wendt as Santa (a role he originated on Broadway). Wendt plays the part with a bit of Norm’s iconic sarcasm and charm, but the role is more of a cameo — he has maybe 20 minutes of stage time in a two-hour production.
The stage adaptation follows the film’s basic plot, but adds a dozen original songs. The material isn’t exactly Tony worthy, but a few of the big dance numbers provide an excellent introduction to the spectacle of Broadway for the elementary school set.
Like a Disney movie, the writers included plenty of jokes for the parents, from malfunctioning TiVos to North Pole towns without Starbucks, to iPads filled with nice and naughty lists. But this show isn’t for adults. Anyone expecting Gershwin or Sondheim (or even Seth MacFarlane) level wit will be disappointed. Kids, however, don’t need wit. They’ll be perfectly happy with the exuberant cast, bright costumes and silly humor. And parents will be happy with a piece of entertainment generally free of violence (although the language can be a little crass for elementary school kids).
It’s hard to imagine “Elf: The Musical” being elevated to the status of classic. But if it continues to return to Boston, it could become a tradition for the Generation Z. Stranger things have happened, like Will Ferrell becoming the millennials’ Jimmy Stewart....Read more