Dec. 07--Get ready to feel all "Sparkle-jolly-twinkle-jingly."
The exuberant signature tune in Act 1 of "Elf" expresses protagonist Buddy's boundless love of Christmas and uncontrollable desire to deck the whole world in holiday tinsel and cheer.
The 2010 Broadway musical based on the popular 2003 movie comedy is making its Houston premiere in the Theatre Under The Stars' production that opens this weekend at Hobby Center.
The clever premise finds this naive, hyper-enthusiastic (and rather overgrown) elf discovering -- to his dismay -- that he's not an elf at all, but a human who crawled into Santa's bag as an infant one Christmas Eve, was accidentally carried back to the North Pole, then adopted and raised as an elf.
Naturally, learning his true identity prompts the inevitable quest, which, for Buddy, entails journeying to New York to find his father, who turns out to be a workaholic, family-neglecting publisher of children's books. Also inevitably, it's up to Buddy to teach Dad and other disillusioned New Yorkers how to appreciate Christmas.
Most holiday films and shows set out to spread incessant cheer -- so much so, some spectators may find them a tad wearing, if not downright illogical. Perhaps the key to the success of "Elf" is that beyond the cute and clever factors, its premise provides a reason for the hero to be so all-fired cheerful and devoted to all things Christmas. I mean, you would expect a North Pole elf to be more gung-ho about Christmas than, say, the average journalist, politician or CPA.
The producers recruited a solid team for the stage adaptation. The book is by Thomas Meehan, who wrote "Annie" and co-wrote "The Producers," and Bob Martin, one of the co-creators of that boundless delight "The Drowsy Chaperone." The score is by the up-and-coming team of Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, who nabbed a Tony nomination for "The Wedding Singer."
No less than Sheldon Harnick, one of the greatest lyricists of Broadway's golden age, praised their work in his liner notes for the show's cast album.
"Mr. Sklar has provided a splendidly tuneful score and sustained its exuberance with a wealth of rhythmic variety," Harnick wrote. "As a lyricist myself, I was particularly impressed with the wit and craft of Chad Beguelin's lyrics. It's a pleasure to hear lyrics as intelligent and technically accomplished as these." Coming from the co-creator of "She Loves Me," "Fiorello!" and "Fiddler on the Roof," it's an assessment that carries more weight than any critic's review.
The Broadway production's reviews, while mixed, praised the enterprise's professionalism and polish. The show played on Broadway for the 2010 and 2012 holiday seasons and has had several regional stands.
TUTS artistic director Bruce Lumpkin is at the helm for the company's production, which will import the sets and costumes used for the Seattle mounting but feature an all-new staging.
Lumpkin stresses the show's genuine holiday spirit and family-friendliness.
"To some extent, it already was that way in the movie," Lumpkin says. "But in the musical, they've made it even more a real Christmas show, all about the holiday and the things that are important about the holiday season. It's about family and the naivet of children. About the importance of seeing things through baby eyes, as Buddy does."
The movie's more sarcastic touches and darker scenes were omitted from the musical.
Lumpkin is even toning down some touches of the New York production. On Broadway, the comic lament "Nobody Believes in Santa" ended with the chorus of bogus Santas removing their beards, revealing ordinary, sad-sack types. Lumpkin will have the Santas stay Santas for the whole number.
"I've got a 4-year-old," he says, "and I don't want kids in the audience to see any Santas removing their beards. In our production, I want that scene to be like the number in the Radio City Christmas Show, where you see more and more Santas until there's a whole stage full of them."
Indeed, Lumpkin says, the traditional Radio City Spectacular is the model for what he wants TUTS' production of "Elf" to achieve.
"I want it to have the effect you get from seeing the Radio City show -- that you just leave the theater feeling good and happy."
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