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Review: 'Elf: The Musical'

December 18, 2014

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that “Elf” is the best Christmas movie of the past 30 years. Maybe more.

And with the hunger of patrons for holiday theater fare, it’s no surprise that a theatrical version has been generated to turn the charmer into a live musical.

The 2010 Broadway show has spawned holiday tours, one of which is parked at the Murat through Dec. 21. No doubt, when rights are loosened, “Elf: The Musical” will join the frequent rotation of holiday shows in theaters around the country. Wherever there’s a hyperactive, sincere-but-unashamably-goofy actor with a reasonable amount of dance skill, “Elf” will be there.

As presented as part of the Broadway in Indianapolis series, the non-Equity touring company grabs attention early with a workshop full of dancing and singing elves who are “Happy All the Time” (don't listen for it on the original cast recording. It was added when the show came back to Broadway for the 2012 holiday season). That happiness is briefly lost when Buddy (Daniel Patrick Smith) learns he’s actually a human and sets off on a quest to New York to find his real dad.

If you’ve seen the film, you can tick off what comes next: The narwhal greeting, the revolving door, the awkward singing telegram confusion, et al. Purists may miss the encounter with the testy book writer (who, we learn, is definitely not an elf), the locker room rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and the swinging soundtrack.

Instead, we get a children’s picture book of a set, a few minor plot tweaks, a leading lady (Daryn Harrell) destined for bigger and better things, a homecoming for Indy actor Mark Fishback (playing Santa), and catchy enough tunes by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (“The Wedding Singer”). If “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” sounds familiar, it could be because it’s in the production number rotation in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “Yuletide Celebration.”

Unlike recent movie-to-stage adaptations such as “Ghost,” the musicality of “Elf” doesn’t feel imposed on it by producers with no regard for whether the show should sing. On the other hand, unlike “Once,” it doesn’t reconstitute and elevate its source material.

Instead, "Elf: The Musical" is a pleasant, peppy, sugar-coated diversion.

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