Stage & Dance

‘Elf’ musical brings the movie’s story to the stage. But does it have that timeless charm?

Mark Fishback as Santa and Eric Williams as Buddy in “Elf The Musical” coming to the Lexington Opera House.
Mark Fishback as Santa and Eric Williams as Buddy in “Elf The Musical” coming to the Lexington Opera House.

As a Christmas movie with an unconventional lead and unexpected charms, the 2003 Will Ferrell film “Elf” snuck its way into moviegoers’ hearts to the point where it is now a modern-day classic. With this in mind, it’s kind of surprising that “Elf The Musical,” which opened its run at the Lexington Opera House Friday night, is so back-to-basics Broadway.

Despite game efforts from all involved, the stage adaptation offers only occasional delights and touching sentimental moments while providing a pizazz-filled sugar rush of laughs and Christmas cheer that is family friendly but mostly forgettable.

As the story is narrated by Old Saint Nick himself (played charmingly and humorously by Mark Fishback), we get to learn how Buddy (Eric Williams) was an orphaned human baby who crawled into Santa’s toy bag and hitched a ride to the North Pole to be raised by elves. Believing himself to be an elf despite his large stature, he accidentally learns about his human family and is encouraged to travel to New York City to find them.

Along the way, the jovial and naive Buddy encounters plenty of grumpy New Yorkers, whether it is his Scrooge-like workaholic father Walter Hobbs (John Adkison) who neglects his wife Emily (Caitlin Lester-Sams) and young son Michael (Grady Miranda), or Jovie (Paloma D’Auria), a jaded elf worker at Macy’s Christmas display whose rough exterior and persona makes her a polar opposite love interest to Buddy’s overwhelming sincerity and positivity.

It amounts to a whole lot of people who are severely lacking in Christmas spirit (which now powers Santa’s sleigh thanks to PETA complaints about his reindeer), and Buddy is intent on figuratively and literally changing their tune.

It is a tall order to capture the essence of Will Ferrell’s Buddy. While Eric Williams manages to replicate a similar enthusiasm, he exudes a comic physicality that more closely embodies Jim Carrey with a splash of Weird Al Yankovic and Archie Andrews-colored hair. He certainly has the energy and vocal range to dutifully execute the many jazzy musical numbers and choreography (or eat cold noodles and maple syrup, recalling the original film), but his relentless energy comes off as sometimes more overbearing and grating rather than charming.

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The set pieces for “Elf The Musical” are merely serviceable, with plenty of Christmas colors sprinkled with a mix of snowflakes and cityscapes. Audiences will recognize the inclusion of some of the movie’s signature moments and lines while possibly being disappointed by the omission of others (no revolving door runs or “Baby It’s Cold Outside” Jovie/Buddy duets to be found). The music (by Matthew Sklar) and lyrics (by Chad Beguelin) combine to be big, swinging, brassy and oftentimes kinetic with classic choreography that is as Broadway as it gets.

Among a sea of high kicks and jazz hands, “A Christmas Song” is the only number that has the potential to stick in your head after the sugar crash. A few numbers did stand out in the moment, like “Nobody Cares About Santa Claus” with its collection of depressed part-time Santas bonding and dancing in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve, or any of the duets with the mother Emily and son Michael, particularly the genuinely touching “I’ll Believe in You.”

Jovie, who warms up to Buddy’s charms, displays an exceptional voice on her solo “Never Fall in Love (with an Elf),” with lyrics that show the musical has a bit of self-awareness. Minus some pop culture references, sneaky adult humor and a Santa shout-out to the UK Wildcats, the musical follows a predictable path to its conclusion, which is what most viewers desire in these sort of Christmas tales.

But unlike the movie “Elf,” which has become required and repeat holiday viewing, much in the style of a certain college basketball program, “Elf The Musical” is very much a one and done.

IF YOU GO

‘Elf The Musical’

What: National tour of the hit Broadway musical, presented by Broadway Live!

When: 1 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18

Where: Lexington Opera House 401 W. Short St.

Tickets: $65 to $120

Phone: 859-233-4567

Online: lexingtonoperahouse.com

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