PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 17-23: Elf, A Christmas Story, The Piano Lesson and Rocky the Musical Open

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23 Nov 2012

Johnny Rabe
Johnny Rabe
Photo by Carol Rosegg

You like Christmas? Like Santa? You can't get enough of kids? Lots and lots of tykes, both on stage and in the audience?

Then you loved this week on Broadway. Between Annie, which opened a couple weeks ago, Elf, which returned for its second Times Square visit on Nov. 18, and A Christmas Story, The Musical, which enjoyed its Broadway premiere Nov. 19 at the Lunt Fontanne, after having played various locales around the U.S. for the past couple years, you couldn't swing a sleigh bell without hitting a cute pooch or a fat man in a red suit.

Holiday fare has become big business on Broadway in recent seasons, with shows like Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and White Christmas regularly making visits to, as the New York Times put it, "pick parents' pockets with splashy holiday fare aimed at young audiences." A Christmas Story, based on the beloved 1983 Bob Clark film — based on humorist Jean Shepherd's nostalgic and comedic holiday tale of Midwestern Christmases past — received higher than normal marks from the hardened New York drama critics. In that words of that same broadsheet, it "wins points for being less glitzy and more soft-spoken."

AP called it "a musical that dares to mess with one of the most popular Christmas-time movies of all time and yet manages to not only do the film justice, but top it. The a charming triumph of imagination that director John Rando has infused with utter joy." Hollywood Reporter termed it, "A cut above the pack, it's cute, corny, wholesome and sentimental — all basic requirements for family-friendly seasonal stage entertainment. But it also packs ample heart into its wistful glance back to a time when rewards were simpler, communities were closer-knit, and both parental and filial roles were less polluted by the infinite distractions and anxieties of contemporary life."

Critics admired how the show succeeded "both as an adaptation and on its own terms," as the New York Post put it. "The musical based on the popular 1983 movie is neither candy-cane sweet nor sacred. In fact, not much is sacred in this droll, imaginative, definitely and a bit defiantly off-center tale," reported Newsday.

Not everyone was impressed. Time Out New York lamented that it was "bloated with more schmaltz than a Christmas turkey, the piece ought to be shorter and far more irreverent."

All this praise potentially left Elf — which opened far more quietly, and suffered from being a familiar face, having played Broadway back in 2010 — in the pixie dust. The Post noted that while "the sluggish, saccharine-sweet adaptation of the 2003 Will Ferrell film wasn't bad enough to qualify as a lump of didn't make you wish for a return ticket in your stocking." But, surprise! The paper added, that this year there had "been a Christmas miracle on Broadway, because the retooled Elf that reopened last night is a startling improvement. Zippier and funnier, the show is now a bona fide treat." And AP enthused, "What might come as a surprise is just how polished these songs and arrangements are, particularly the larger-than-life opening number at Santa's workshop and several scenes in a very strong second act."

Still, the New York Times expressed a sentiment shared by many critics — a thought that doesn't bode well for the reception of future X-mas-themed entertainments — saying, "Holiday cheer is swell, but theatrically, at least, maybe it's starting to be spread a bit thin?"


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