There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical walking into opening night of Pioneer Theatre Company's Elf the Musical, at least for for this reviewer.
Adaptations of popular Hollywood films later taken to the stage have been some of my least favorite theater experiences--hello The Wedding Singer--and when Pioneer brought the musical version of another holiday classic to life a couple years back with A Christmas Story, I absolutely abhorred the adaptation.
I'm happy to report all that mental baggage was quickly stashed away as the colorful, energetic take on Will Ferrell's holiday favorite unfolded on the Pioneer stage Friday night. Elf the Musical is ideal holiday family fare, hewing pretty closely to the movie's plot while adding winning original songs and ornate choreography that turned the stage into a festive feast of colors and lights.
At the center of all the action, of course, is Buddy the Elf, played with a winning naivete by Quinn Vanantwerp. Buddy's journey from the North Pole to find his human family in New York City is familiar from the film, but Vanantwerp manages to infuse Buddy with a fresh sense of awe and wonder as he navigates the bustling streets of the city, forges a relationship with his father Walter (Martin Vidnovic) and woos his Macy's coworker Jovie (Libby Servais).
The proceedings are appropriately schmaltzy, but even when the show threatens to get a little too cute, the script delivers a winking barb that lets the audience know the writers are totally aware of treading the line between sentimental and saccharine.
The set design is spectacular, as we've come to expect from Pioneer, and the songs and score fuel infuse everything with an appropriately jolly soundtrack. Put all the elements together, and Elf the Musical is a worthy addition to the theater canon we'll be seeing at the holidays for years to come.
Elf the Musical runs at Pioneer through December 28, running Mondays through Saturdays (except for Christmas day). Visit the Pioneer website for showtimes and ticket information.Photo by Alexander Weisman.