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Just in time for Christmas, or rather just after Christmas, comes the original cast recording of Elf. This was the holiday musical from 2010, which — due to a booking logjam — managed not to get back to Broadway this time round. But should have. Elf was not the holy grail of Broadway musicals, and is no competition for, say, Sweeney Todd. But it was a "Sparklejollytwinklejingley" joy, to borrow a word from songwriters in search of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Hopefully, Elf will make it back onstage before Santa's next flight.
Based on the refreshing 2003 New Line movie starring Will Ferrell, Elf managed to replicate the cinematic charm to the stage. Sebastian Arcelus brought the right combination of boy/man to the developmentally frozen elf named Buddy, allowing the contrived-on-purpose plot to work. (This, mind you, was the precise trap that scuttled the big-budget musical disappointment of 1996, Big.) Elf, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, had just the right touch of nostalgia, corn, and satire — elements that were extended to the work of designers David Rockwell, Gregg Barnes, and Natasha Katz.
In a musical, of course, the score is — or should be — the thing. The Elf score is better than average, brightly melodic and full of cheer. Composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin are the folks from The Rhythm Club, one of those musicals that attracted a good deal of attention when it was produced regionally — at Signature Theatre in Arlington, in 2000 — but was disbanded en route to Broadway due to money-raising woes. The team finally made it to town in 2006, with the sub-par Wedding Singer. Elf demonstrates that they are both adept at musical comedy. Sklar provides some jolly tunes, while Beguelin offers an assortment of well-turned lyrics. Anyone who cares to rhyme "elf" with "Philadelfffff----fia" gets a nod from me.
Elf was a family show, intended for family audiences but crammed with sly touches for the delectation of more sophisticated viewers. And no wonder: this is what director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw was doing while overseeing the final pre-rehearsal touches to The Book of Mormon. Theatregoers who do not have it in their genetic makeup to enjoy a musical where a kid and his mom sing a song about how there really is a Santa Claus are hereby given a pass; other listeners will find Elf a good old fashioned musical, full of real tunes. Closer to Mame, say, than Cabaret. But what's wrong with that? And don't we perennially need a little Christmas?
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