A Christmas musical offers standardized merriment.

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus


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Photograph: Joan Marcus


Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Christmas is just around the corner, and Broadway is ready with this year's seasonal fair-to-middling musical. In recent holiday seasons, we have seen limited runs of White Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas; now we get Elf, adapted from the 2003 film comedy and decked out in attractive pop-up-book sets by David Rockwell, vivid costumes by Gregg Barnes and festive orchestrations by Doug Besterman. But the musical itself, while competently assembled, seems rather old-fashioned and washed-out; Elf is a brightly wrapped and beribboned box with a hand-me-down sweater inside.

Most of the movie's charm comes from the central casting of Will Ferrell as Buddy, a gawky manchild who has grown up among the elves of Santa's workshop, and who sets out to find his birth father in New York City. It is not the fault of this Elf's star, the hardworking Sebastian Arcelus, that he lacks Ferrell's unique earnest-ironic comic charisma; but without it, Buddy is just an overeager naf in green tights, and the plot's corn doesn't pop. Directed and choreographed with routinized showbiz gumption by Casey Nicholaw, the show provides little chance for anyone to shine. Beth Leavel brings a hint of tense flair to her role as Buddy's aggrieved stepmother; but Amy Spanger makes no impression as the romantic interest, and George Wendt's Santa Claus is little more than a cameo. "Sometimes I get the feeling that New York is jaded," sings Buddy in the second-act opener, "Nobody Cares About Santa." Can he blame us? Even with a chorus line of dancing Kris Kringles, that number, like the show as a whole, earns dutiful applause but no Christmas cheers.

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Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin. Music by Matthew Sklar. Lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Dir. Casey Nicholaw. With Sebastian Arcelus, Amy Spanger, George Wendt. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.