REVIEW: 'Elf, The Musical,' through Dec. 23, Arvada Center

Mark Devine and Josh Houghton - Matt Gale Photography
ELF—The Musical, based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, is like a holiday plate loaded with Christmas fudge—it’s sweet, sticky, chock full of nuts, and lacking any lasting value, nutritional or otherwise. The musical offers all the sensational delight of a massive sugar rush, complete with the inevitable after effects of fatigue and vague dissatisfaction.

The Arvada Center’s giddy and gorgeous production of the musical about a 30-year-old man child who has outgrown his home at the North Pole and journeys to New York to learn about family and the real world, runs through Dec. 23. ELF—The Musical, based mostly but not slavishly on David Berenbaum’s screenplay, features songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, with book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin.

Josh Houghton and Colin Alexander
Buddy (Josh Houghton) is a former orphan stowaway raised by Santa (Colin Alexander) and his Christmas elves. He’s a misfit in every sense at the North Pole, and his hyperactive immaturity resounds even louder in the Big Apple, where he harasses a depressed Macy’s employee (Leslie Hiatt) into liking him, stalks and torments his unethical biological father (Mark Devine), and sabotages his dad's career. Buddy maniacally disrupts the status quo wherever he goes, yet in the end everything seems to work out, because Christmas.

Fans of the film will be surprised by how many beloved gags, scenes, character developing, and relationship building moments are NOT in this two and a half hour musical. Corners and characters are cut, the plot is simplified, and solutions to conflicts come far too easily.

The second act opener boasts the only truly original scene, a departure from the film version, and features a chorus of disenchanted Santas who just aren’t feeling the Christmas spirit anymore. The number’s a riot, and mostly because it represents the polar (pun intended) opposite of Buddy’s ridiculously optimistic worldview.

While it’s going on, the show is tons of fun. It’s aimed low for the kids, and there’s no shortage of energy, with bright and shiny things abounding. Gavin Mayer stages the musical comedy with an eye to keeping everything fast and light. Laura K. Love’s colorful and animated watercolor picture-book set design is marvelous to behold.

Naturally, the centerpiece of this confection is Buddy himself, and Houghton is a force of nature, with something reminiscent of Danny Kaye’s manic energy. At approximately six and a half feet tall and skinny as a rail, he towers over the rest of the cast. Houghton works his face and voice and body like a symphony of lanky, gangly comic buffoonery, though I’m not sure I caught a single genuine emotion. It’s almost like his unique talent puts him in the stratosphere, unable to relate to or connect with the rest of the cast, yet shining so brightly you can’t take your eyes off him.

Leslie Hiatt and Josh Houghton
Devine does yeoman’s work as the beleaguered children’s book publisher and sudden father of an odd duck indeed. Alexander also shines both as Santa and a curmudgeonly publisher. Hiatt is given very little to do (but does it well) as the unlikely love interest, and Sharon Kay White has several shining moments as an irrepressibly bubbly secretary.

The audience clearly loved ELF—The Musical. For me, it felt silly and superficial compared to some of the other holiday classics. It’s a lightweight musical comedy with enjoyable songs and a Christmas theme that is suitable for the whole family.

Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm, with matinées on Wednesdays at 1:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm, through December 23. Audience engagement events, including a weekly theatre salon, insider talkbacks, and happy hours with the cast, are held throughout the run of the production. To purchase tickets, and for additional details, go to https://arvadacenter.org/elf-the-musical or call 720-898-7200.

Watch the movie version of Elf HERE.

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