"If you lower your expectations in life, you'll avoid a lot of disappointment." It's easy to wonder whether this is just cynical shopgirl Jovie (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) speaking to sunny title character Buddy (Will Blum) about all the times she's been let down by men, or if it's also Elf the Musical's creators speaking to us in the 21st-century theatergoing audience, knowing how often we've been burned by crappy screen-to-stage musicals.
Either way, the musical mostly avoids disappointment, travelling in the range between benign and fairly charming. Basing their work on the 2003 movie in which Santa's most enthusiastic and overgrown elf, played by Will Ferrell, learns he's really a human orphan and goes in search of his family, book writers Thomas Meehan (The Producers, Annie) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) go only slightly goopier than the film in pursuit of holiday good cheer.
Where Ferrell was all deadpan innocence and incredulousness as Buddy, Blum's characterization is more Chris Kattan: He's the Spirit of Christmas Spazzy, come to visit on his long-lost Scrooge of a dad (Larry Cahn) while winning over his stepmom (Julia Louise Hosack) and 12-year-old brother (Noah Marlowe).
While Elf is firmly set in this century, the score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (also the team behind the Broadway musical The Wedding Singer) recalls in places the jazzy shows of the ’60s, yielding hints of homage to the likes of Promises, Promises and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (the 11 o'clock number "The Story of Buddy the Elf" seems to directly quote its How to Succeed counterpart, "Brotherhood of Man").
Chambers gets short shrift in the Zooey Deschanel role to make room for more peppy, jazz-handsy group numbers, but she makes a nice impression. The show as a whole doesn't creep far above nice, really, but that's far preferable to naughty.