Review: 'Elf the Musical' Lights Up The Fox Stage

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Round up the usual suspects. One hard-nosed, work-on-Christmas-or-else boss, an overworked employee neglecting his family, an affable wife struggling to hold the unit together, their son who laments the absence of his father and one comely single woman who has given up on finding the right guy. Check. Now send in the elf.

Matt Kopec (Buddy) and the cast of “Elf The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

The cast of “Elf The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus
Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

“Elf The Musical,” based on the hit movie starring Will Farrell, follows the same plot as the film. As an orphan child, Buddy crawls into Santa’s bag one Christmas morning and is accidentally transported by “The Big Guy” back to the North Pole, where—since Santa is never brought up on kidnapping charges—they keep the little booger and raise him as an elf. Eventually, too-tall Buddy learns that he is not an elf, but human, and so he sets off to search for his father in big, bad, bereft of spirit New York City.

Matt Kopec (Buddy) and Gordon Gray (Santa) in “Elf The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Matt Kopec (Buddy) and Gordon Gray (Santa) in “Elf The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus
Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

The plot is a familiar one, particularly with schmaltzy holiday fare where somebody always needs saving from themselves or circumstances, because if they could just embrace the holiday spirit and all it entails—compassion, empathy, love—then they can have a very fine Christmas indeed. It may be a familiar plot but it’s a plot we love. We eat it up with our figgy pudding and shots of eggnog on the side. “Elf the Musical,” with its entertaining score, clever and delightful musical numbers, more pop culture references than an episode of the Simpsons and an energetic, buoyant performance by Matt Kopec as Buddy, is an enjoyable stocking-stuffer surprise that makes for an entertaining and diversionary evening of theater.

Julia Louise Hosack (Emily), Connor Barth (Michael), Gordon Gray (Santa), Drew Pulver (Walter) and Matt Kopec (Buddy) in “Elf The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Scene from “Elf The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus
Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

Kopec’s endearingly goofy, happy-go-lucky Buddy is a notably more exuberant portrayal than Mr. Farrell’s, which serves him well in his many musical numbers, all handled with impeccable style and grace. The remaining roles, though the parts are well-performed and sung, are mostly stock characters around which Buddy can do his shtick. Kevin Rockower (Walter), Jane Bruce (Emily), Tyler Altomari (Michael), Jacqueline Grabois (Deb), Gordon Gray (Santa), Kevin Rockower (Mr. Greenway), and Clyde Voce (Store Manager) all do admirable work. Kate Hennies does a fine job playing manic pixie dream-girl Jovie, who laments the lack of any good men just to end up dating an emotionally challenged man-child dressed in an elf costume. Only in New York.

Matt Kopec (Buddy) and the cast of “Elf The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Matt Kopec (Buddy) and the cast of “Elf The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus
Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

The music by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (“The Wedding Singer”) is in a very traditional musical theater form, but its big band jazz style had at least one member of the audience bouncing in his seat. The book by Tony Award-winners Thomas Meehan (“Annie,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray”) and Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”) is adequate, but one expects more from such luminaries. The pop culture references mostly fall flat and the script doesn’t seem to know if its meant for adults or children. It still manages to get some good laughs, and it’s entertaining.

Connor Gallagher’s choreography is delightful throughout. From the first big number, “Christmas Town,” when chorus members playing elves dance on their knees to appear just four-feet tall, or during any of the numbers, especially “Nobody Cares About Santa,” where street-corner, bell-ringing, pint-swilling Santas bemoan the lack of holiday spirit. Sam Scalamoni’s direction moves the story along at a brisk pace.

It’s a good, bouncy show that, while it may not stick with you or offer any degree of profundity, is a welcome diversion from the hustle and bustle (and headaches) of the season. Not a full-blown roast goose Christmas dinner with all the trimmings perhaps, but a nice plate of Christmas cookies nevertheless.

“Elf the Musical” continues at the Fox through Dec. 27. No performance December 24 or 25. For tickets and more information visit the Fox Theatre website or call (314) 531-9999.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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