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Updated Friday, December 7, 2012 at 10:53 PM

‘Elf’ is one jolly musical | Theater review

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

Theater review

Dear Santa: All I want this year is a new, G-rated holiday show that delights children without insulting the intelligence of adults, one that generates hearty laughs and broad smiles, that lifts the spirits but doesn’t strangle you with treacle and plastic tinsel.

P.S. If it’s about a giant, overgrown elf, can you provide a star who can dance, sing, cavort like the dickens and keep a crowd charmed for an entire evening? Is that too much to ask?

Apparently not, because Old St. Nick came through early this year with the Seattle debut of the Broadway musical “Elf” at 5th Avenue Theatre. And if he had a hand in casting Matt Owen in the lead, l’m probably not on his naughty list.

“Elf” is based on the hit 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell as a sort of North Pole Peter Pan raised in Santa’s workshop. The big guy (a 6-footer with the sophistication of an 8-year-old) discovers he’s really human, not elf, and hits the ice to find his real dad in the terra exotica of New York City.

There’s essentially one joke here, but it’s a gift that keeps giving: the clash between Buddy’s guileless naievete, conviction and sweetness, and the jaded New Yorkers who equate innocence with mental illness.

Simple-minded? You betcha. And predictably happily ended, as Buddy (Owen) spreads cheer; his workaholic dad, Walter (Allen Fitzpatrick) re-connects with family values; and Buddy’s cute, lonely crush Jovie (a too-small part, brightened by Kendra Kassebaum) returns his ardor.

Writers Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”) and Thomas Meehan (“Annie”) have cleverly adapted David Berenbaum’s screenplay with fidelity to the premise, characters and much of the dialogue.

But they’ve also added choice gags and jokes of their own. (You gotta love a Santa, played with crusty vigor by Sean Griffin, who cracks wise about global warming and stores wish lists on his iPad.) Their book also makes it almost natural for Owen’s ebullient Buddy to burst into song and zany dance. Hey, the guy has a lot to sing about.

Under Eric Ankrim’s buoyant direction, the show dashes and prances, pleasing my 10-year old companion throughout. The songs by composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin (who also scored 5th Avenue’s “The Wedding Singer”) are upbeat and frothy, and there are no (thanks again, Mr. Claus!) overwrought, tonsil-torching ballads. The tap-happy choreography by Denis Jones for the strong ensemble cast has plenty of zip.

The “Nobody Cares About Santa” number, featuring a chorus line of “fake” St. Nicks, is especially rousing. So are the jazzy “The Story of Buddy the Elf” and the ultra-silly razamatazzy “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” in which Matthew Smucker's wintry set is garnished with Yultide decorations and good cheer.

But the biggest source of cheer is Owen, whose unstinting joie de vivre, belted vocals and nimbly-gawky dance moves win you over in a twinkle. One can’t imagine a better elf to hang with than this triple-threat comer who scatters joy to the maximum.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

‘Elf: The Musical’

Through Dec. 31, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; $29-$109 (206-625-1900 or www.5thavenue.org)


Tracy Martin
Jovie (Kendra Kassebaum), left, and Buddy (Matt Owen) star in “Elf: The Musical” at The 5th Avenue Theatre.




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