Friday, November 29, 2013

'Elf the Musical' is Charmingly Cheery but Not All That Grand of Stature -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Elf the Musical 
Music by Matthew Sklar
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru December 15

I have never seen the movie Elf, not expressly because I am Jewish nor because it stars Will Ferrell (I am told it is one of his better ones).

But there have been a number of screen-to-stage adaptations I've greatly enjoyed despite not having previously seen the source movie--including Hairspray, The Producers, Kinky Boots and the seasonally-relevant A Christmas Story.

In some ways, without discounting the pleasure any good movie can provide, I almost prefer not to be familiar with the movie when seeing the stage version, especially in my role as a self-anointed critic.

If I and others are paying to see a live show, it should hold up as its own work of art, not merely a brand-name way to sell tickets. Although it should be noted that on Tuesday, the first night of Elf's national tour stop in Chicago, the balcony at the Cadillac Palace was as full as I've seen it in recent memory.

Photo credits: Amy Boyle Photography
And with the caveat that I am a Broadway in Chicago subscriber who didn't pay much, nor anew, to see Elf, I didn't feel cheated in any way. Elf will not rank among the best musicals I've seen this year, or even this month, but it was fun, festive and sufficiently tuneful. From it, I can imagine that the movie is likewise enjoyable if not sensational.

With Broadway Book of Mormon veteran Will Blum appealing in the lead role, Elf features a nice score by Matthew Sklar, with lyrics by Chad Beguelin. The two collaborated on The Wedding Singer musical and know their way around a professional showtune.

"Christmastown" and "A Christmas Song," are upbeat odes to the holiday season, while "Nobody Cares About Santa" is an imaginative, terrifically-sardonic piece sung by a host of world-weary department store Santas in a late-night Chinese restaurant in New York City.

Without knowing how much of the book came directly from the movie, I also was impressed--to a certain extent--by the work done by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin. But the former had worked on The Producers and Hairspray and the latter The Drowsy Chaperone, so that they knew how to make Elf appealing without taking itself too seriously doesn't come as much of a surprise.

If one is looking for a enjoyable holiday musical, whether for the family, without such or just for ones'Elf, this warmhearted work should put a smile on your face.

Yes, it ultimately is rather facile, schmaltzy and even formulaic--I imagine the movie is too--and not every song or production number is a winner. But Blum does a nice job, as does Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Elf's love interest and Larry Cahn as his father.

I am certainly no worse off for having seen Elf nor having it included in my subscription series, and while @@@1/2 doesn't connote a rave review, it was actually considerably better than I was envisioning.

Per my ratings scale, @@@1/2 does denote a show somewhere between good and excellent, and both the piece itself and this touring production fit comfortably into that range.

I might even have to see the movie now.

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