‘Elf the Musical’ delivers ample amounts of silliness and sentimentality at Growing Stage

elf the musical review

JERRY DALIA

Connor McKenna, center, plays Buddy the Elf in “Elf the Musical” at the Growing Stage in Netcong, through Dec. 22.

Since premiering in 2010, the family-oriented “Elf the Musical” — adapted from the mostly non-musical 2003 Will Ferrell film — has become something of a holiday perennial. It’s a bit more irreverent than most, and includes some jokes that will go right over the heads of children but amuse their parents.

In one scene, for instance, the main character, Buddy the Elf, is being given directions from the North Pole to New York. “Just head south until you find yourself in a big smelly industrial wasteland,” he’s told.

“And that’s New York?” he asks.

“No, that’s New Jersey. Then you go through the Lincoln Tunnel and you’re there.”

But for all its impish silliness, “Elf the Musical” is still, ultimately, quite sentimental and uplifting. It is currently working its considerable charm at the Growing Stage in Netcong.

Lori Lawrence directs a cast of 18, including a handful of child actors playing elves and other minor characters. Connor McKenna conveys a big heart and an appropriate goofy sense of fun as Buddy, though he could project his voice a little more powerfully at times. Olivia Clavel-Davis, playing his love interest Jovie, steals the show with her dynamic delivery of her second act solo number, “Never Fall in Love (With an Elf).”

“You’re in for sleepless nights,” she sings, “if you date a guy who has a thing for tights.”

You probably know the story already. Buddy — a human who has grown up as an elf, assisting Santa at the North Pole — learns the truth about himself and travels to New York, where he tries to establish a relationship with his skeptical, no-nonsense father, Walter (James Daniel Lynch), who previously had not even been aware of his son’s existence, and his stepmother, Emily (Lisa Winkler). Much of the humor comes via plopping the wide-eyed, innocent Buddy into the middle of cynical New York, where people aren’t just impolite to each other, but — gasp! — don’t really believe in Santa Claus anymore.

Expectations may have been low when it was announced that the movie was being made into a musical, a decade ago. Such projects don’t always yield satisfying results.

But a talent creative team was assembled, including book writers Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan, lyricist Chad Beguelin and composer Matthew Sklar; all have won Tony for other musicals or at least been nominated. And they produced a full-bodied musical, full of dramatic twists and turns, memorable melodies, and clever wordplay.

Despite its sometimes snarky tone, and its references to iPads and Starbucks and so on, “Elf the Musical” feels a bit old-fashioned, in a good way. And that’s really quite an accomplishment.

The Growing Stage presents “Elf the Musical” through Dec. 22; visit growingstage.com.

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