Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

‘Elf’ adaptation is funny, musical, almost impossible not to like

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★½☆

Eric Williams (right, as Buddy) surprises Tyler Altomari (as Michael) by pouring maple syrup on his food in “Elf the Musical.” Photo by Amy Boyle Photography.

Santa (Ken Clement), Buddy (Eric Williams) and the chorus (with elf-actors on their knees) have a merry time in “Elf the Musical.” Photo by Amy Boyle Photography.

When you come right down to it, I’m generally a non-believer.

I haven’t believed in the Tooth Fairy for a long time. Ditto the Easter Bunny and the Energizer Bunny. Double-ditto unicorns and centaurs.

Santa Claus? You must be kidding.

But ask me about a bumbling bozo brought up by elves at the North Pole who reunites in Manhattan with his human birth father and I’ll tell you, with a giant smile, that I wanna believe, brother, I wanna believe.

That’s because Buddy, hero of the gag-filled “Elf the Musical,” is so bouncy, so entertaining, so goofy.

Eric Williams, who plays Buddy in the touring company production at the SHN Curran Theatre in San Francisco, makes it virtually impossible not to like the character or believe in his good-natured, innocent spirit.

But to make sure my senior reaction paralleled those of theatergoers a few decades younger, I checked with the three kids I chaperoned to opening night.

Hannah, my 7-year-old granddaughter, was concise: “I liked the play better than the movie.”

She was referring, of course, to the 2003 comedy-fantasy Jon Favreau directed (starring Will Ferrell as Buddy).

She found the main character in the show “really funny,” but questioned the tale’s modernity. “I don’t believe that Santa has an iPad!” she exclaimed afterwards.

At least one urbane allusion had flown over her head.

Santa supposedly had stopped using reindeer after complaints from PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Questioned Hannah, “What’s a PETA? I know what a pita chip is, but what’s a PETA?”

Hudson, son of Hannah’s mom’s partner, was astute enough at 13 to discern minor blips. “Buddy forgot to button his vest,” he said about one of the many quick costume changes, “and it was obvious when he fixed it.”

He liked the show over all, though, especially its colorful costumes and multiple painting-like sets — despite finding the Buddy character “a little too dumb.”

But he also thought “some of the language might be a little harsh for little kids.”

Hudson’s younger brother, Kota, 11, clearly was the most sanguine of the trio. He appreciated 100 percent “how they integrated the musical numbers with the story,”

I loved watching my young companions’ reactions as much as I seeing the prime performers — all of whom were first-rate (most outstanding, besides Williams, were Harper S. Brady, who played Buddy’s half-brother, Michael, and Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Buddy’s stepmother, Emily).

Brady, who alternates with Tyler Altomari in the role, and Sharp were marvelous in two potent duets — “I’ll Believe in You” and “There Is a Santa Claus.”

Also superb was Maggie Anderson as Jovie, Buddy’s love interest. Her comic solo, “Never Fall in Love (with an Elf),” was brilliant.

A show-stopper.

The two-hour Christmasy musical will end its short local run Dec. 28, although it could easily become a perennial.

Because it oozes with charm.

Its 14-person chorus is as perpetually energetic as the aforementioned bunny, palpable in a scene of multiple dancing Santas and another when the elf-actors dance on their knees and create a Rockettes-like sequence.

Thanks to the combined imaginations of choreographer Connor Gallagher and director Sam Scalamonai.

Upbeat music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and a nine-piece orchestra conducted by Roberto Sinha help keep things blissful, with drummer/percussionist Aaron Drescher offering up the most perfectly timed, dramatic instrumentation.

For adults such as me, the show — which debuted on Broadway in 2010 — contains just the right amount of clever cynicism.

Such as when one department store Santa complains that today’s kids seem compelled to text while sitting on his lap.

Some adults, however, might prefer to take the family brood to “Nutcracker” again. Or re-read David Sedaris’ tale of his being a Macy’s elf, “Santaland Diaries.”

Some undoubtedly will pay attention to the youngsters.

The 15-minute intermission, Kota gushed, “felt so long — I couldn’t wait for it to end so the show could start again. ‘Elf’ made it onto the charts of my favorite plays. It was quite delightful. I’d see it again in a heartbeat.”

“Elf the Musical” plays at the SHN Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco, through Dec. 28. Evening performances, Sundays, 5:30 p.m.; Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Matinees, Sundays, noon; Mondays through Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 2 p.m. Tickets: $45 to $160 (subject to change). Information: (888) 746-1799 or

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