‘Elf’ at Paper Mill: a modern fable, flawlessly executed



James Moye, center, plays Buddy in the musical “Elf,” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through Jan. 4.

Buddy is the kind of buddy you’d like to have. He’s kind and funny and optimistic; definitely a glass-half-full kind of guy. He’s 30, but still a child at heart. “What’s your favorite color?” he asks, after introducing himself, while answering a phone at a business office.

He also believes he’s an elf. Like, the kind of elf that helps Santa make the presents.

That is the premise of “Elf,” the hit 2003 Will Ferrell movie and the subsequent Broadway musical based on that movie. The musical is now being presented as a holiday season attraction at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn; it opened there Sunday, and will be there through Jan. 4.

There will be more traditional holiday-oriented shows in New Jersey in the coming weeks. And there will certainly be some shows that will be more suited to the devoutly religious. But for pure entertainment value, this “Elf” is hard to beat.

From left, Jake Faragalli, Heidi Blickenstaff, James Moye and Kate Fahrner co-star in "Elf."


From left, Jake Faragalli, Heidi Blickenstaff, James Moye and Kate Fahrner co-star in “Elf.”

North Bergen resident James Moye, as Buddy, does wide-eyed wonder well, and the rest of the cast, including Maplewood’s Kate Fahrner as his initially skeptical girlfriend and Paper Mill veteran Robert Cuccioli as his Grinch-like father, is flawless. The songs are catchy and the dances well-executed. The sets — including a snow globe-like setting for Santa’s house — are handsome, and the special effects will dazzle younger attendees.

There are some pop culture references in the script, as well as a few mildly off-color jokes. But ultimately, this is a musical with a heart of gold, and a holiday-appropriate message. It’s a modern fable, really, and an uplifting one at that. If you’re not a Ferrell fan, don’t be scared away by the fact that he starred in the movie: There’s a little bit of smarm here, but a ton of sweetness.

Kids will appreciate the fact that this is a musical about their world. The Santa in this play has an iPad, and has trouble with his TiVo machine. There are also jokes about Harry Potter and “Annie” and texting. And Buddy is told that there’s nothing wrong with him in a very modern-sounding way (that kids will immediately recognize as condescending): “You’re just special.”

But parents will be knocked out as well, by the cleverness of the jokes, and the overall quality of the production. This production really is that rarest of things: a “family-oriented” musical that the whole family can truly enjoy.

“Elf” will be presented at the Paper Mill Playhouse 7 p.m. Dec. 3-7, 10-14, 17-21, 23, 26-27 and 30 and Jan. 1-3; and at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 4, 6-7, 11, 13-14, 18, 20-21, 23 (autism-friendly performance), 24, 26-28 and 31 and Jan. 2-4. Tickets are $28 to $99. Visit papermill.org.

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