Coming up with a new holiday movie classic is a next-to-impossible task. Elf, the 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell, managed to buck those odds, and its classic status has only been bolstered since it was adapted into a musical. The national tour of Elf the Musical has finally made its way to Dallas, presented by Dallas Summer Musicals at the Music Hall at Fair Park through December 20.
The theater production makes no major changes to the story, in which Buddy (Daniel Patrick Smith), raised by Santa Claus (Ken Clement) and his elves at the North Pole, discovers he’s actually human. He goes on a journey to New York City to find his real father, Walter (D. Scott Withers), inadvertently injecting a boatload of Christmas spirit into a city known for its jaded citizens.
Naturally, most of the comedy comes from the “fish out of water” nature of the story, as Buddy tries to navigate interacting with humans instead of elves. His irrepressible joy and naiveté lead to several sticky situations, including one involving a budding relationship with Jovie (Maggie Anderson), who works as a department store elf.
It’s obvious from minute one that this is theater made for the masses, not for theater snobs. Everything about the production is straightforward, including the dialogue, sets, costumes, choreography, and songs. It’s all designed to put a smile on audience members' faces, although that rarely translates into being something truly memorable.
In fact, the only elements that truly stand out are Buddy himself and two second-act songs, “Nobody Cares About Santa” and “The Story of Buddy the Elf.” The musical’s songs, composed by Matthew Sklar and written by Chad Beguelin, are mostly trifles, with these two lodging in your brain due to a fun dance sequence (“Santa”) and inescapable repetitiveness (“Buddy the Elf”).
Smith’s performance as Buddy is no copycat act, as he brings his own touches to the part. But it’s a testament to the role, which keeps Smith clad in his elf costume for most of the play’s running time, that it allows him to be as goofy as he wants without fear of being too over-the-top. He can do almost anything and it will come off as charming.
The same can be said of the entire production of Elf the Musical, which succeeds merely by the fact that it exists. It’s at once a reminder of the fun the film brought to our lives in the first place, and a non-threatening introduction to the world of theater for non-theater junkies. Just know that you’ll need a crowbar to get the chorus to “The Story of Buddy the Elf” out of your head.