Abundance of enthusiasm makes up for so-so material in Drury Lane's 'Elf-- The Musical'

  • Ben Dow, plays Buddy, a human raised as an elf who leaves his North Pole home to find his father in Drury Lane Theatre's "Elf -- The Musical."

    Ben Dow, plays Buddy, a human raised as an elf who leaves his North Pole home to find his father in Drury Lane Theatre's "Elf -- The Musical." Courtesy of Brett Beiner

  • Emily Hobbs (Melody A. Betts), second from left, urges her workaholic husband Walter (Sean Fortunato), left, to spend quality holiday time with her and their son Michael (Gabriel Solis) in Drury Lane Theatre's "Elf -- The Musical" featuring Marya Grandy, right, as Walter's assistant.

    Emily Hobbs (Melody A. Betts), second from left, urges her workaholic husband Walter (Sean Fortunato), left, to spend quality holiday time with her and their son Michael (Gabriel Solis) in Drury Lane Theatre's "Elf -- The Musical" featuring Marya Grandy, right, as Walter's assistant. Courtesy of Brett Beiner

 
 
Updated 11/19/2022 7:11 AM

"Elf the Musical" -- ★ ★ ★

The four girls sitting in front of me Thursday night at Drury Lane Theatre's opening of "Elf -- The Musical" were absolutely giddy during "Happy All the Time," the tuner's opening number that introduces Santa's hardworking helpers. They include Buddy, an elf unlike any other, and the character around which this pleasantly innocuous tuner revolves.

 

The girls' enthusiasm was warranted. The peppy number is a winning introduction to this fish-out-of-water tale adapted from the hit 2003 Will Ferrell film by writers Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin.

Buddy (Ben Dow), center, joins his fellow elves in Santa's workshop in Drury Lane Theatre's revival of "Elf -- The Musical" running through Jan. 8.
Buddy (Ben Dow), center, joins his fellow elves in Santa's workshop in Drury Lane Theatre's revival of "Elf -- The Musical" running through Jan. 8. - Courtesy of Brett Beiner

Bright-eyed, fresh-faced Ben Dow plays Buddy, an orphaned human who as a toddler crawled into Santa's toy bag and wound up being raised by elves at the North Pole's Christmastown. Thirty years later, with Buddy unable to make his toymaking quota, Santa (a very merry A.D. Weaver) sends him to New York City to search for his birth father, Walter Hobbs (Sean Fortunato), a workaholic children's book publisher who has little time for his frustrated wife Emily (Melody A. Betts) or their son Michael (the crystalline-voiced Gabriel Solis).

Undeterred by the grumpy Walter, Buddy endears himself into his new family, finds an ally in Walter's assistant Deb (Marya Grandy, Chicago's go-to comic sidekick), falls in love with the dubious Jovie (Lydia Burke), whose romantic disappointments have put her off men, and reminds everyone of the true meaning of Christmas.

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It's all exactly what you expect from feel-good, holiday fodder. Not all the jokes land where they should and the sentiment is strictly surface level, but Drury Lane's revival, directed and choreographed by Lynne Kurdziel Formato, has an abundance of enthusiasm that makes up for a paper-thin tale.

Lydia Burke plays Jovie, a cynical department store elf whose romance with Buddy restores her belief in Santa in "Elf -- The Musical" at Drury Lane Theatre.
Lydia Burke plays Jovie, a cynical department store elf whose romance with Buddy restores her belief in Santa in "Elf -- The Musical" at Drury Lane Theatre. - Courtesy of Brett Beiner

The action unfolds against set designer Kristen Martino's charming picture book, which serves as the backdrop for Anthony Churchill's wonderfully whimsical, off-kilter (like Buddy himself) projections of NYC locales.

In a production whose execution exceeds its material, Rachel Boylan's cheery elf costumes and Santa's gorgeous suit (with gold brocade vest) also deserve mention.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Formato's zestful choreography tips its hat to Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse in the boogie-woogie inspired "Nobody Cares About Santa," a wry lament by department store Santas and one of the production's best numbers (despite a slightly suggestive tone that seems a bit out of place).

While not especially memorable, Sklar's swinging score features jazz-infused numbers and Broadway-style tunes (the zippy "Sparklejollytwinklejingley" and "The Story of Buddy the Elf"), and it's well-played by conductor Christopher Sargent's able septet.

• • •

Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111, drurylanetheatre.com

Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday; 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 8

Tickets: $75-$85, dinner-theater packages available

Running time: About 2 hours, 20 minutes, including intermission

Parking: In the adjacent lot

Rating: For most audiences, but includes adult innuendo

COVID-19 precautions: Masks optional

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