By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
Some people like the Yuletide season and some don’t. I don’t know if it’s a statistical anomaly or what but for some reason I haven’t been able to enter a store in the past month without hearing some over-sexed gal pouting her way through “Santa Baby.” I mean – what are the chances? Don’t people sing “Just Hear Those Sleigh Bells Jingling” anymore?
I’m not much for Christmas entertainment; I’ve never seen A Christmas Story, Home Alone, The Santa Clause or Elf – the Will Ferrell movie from 2003. I’ve always felt bad about that since it, and Ferrell, are two of my son’s favorite things in the world.
Elf the Musical continues through December 30 at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Downtown. 412/392-4900. www.trustarts.org
Well now there can finally be peace on earth since the Broadway in Pittsburgh Series has brought to town, in a very limited run, a musical version.
The show has a bit of an odd production history. It opened on Broadway in November of 2010 and closed in January of 2011. It re-opened in November of 2012 and closed January of 2013. There’ve been several national tours all following that Nov-Jan blueprint … because who the hell wants to see Elf the Musical in July?
The Elf we’ve got is, in fact, just one of a few Elfs currently roaming the country in a case of making hay while, er, the snow flies.
So … do I really need to tell you what Elf’s about? Buddy is an orphaned boy raised in the North Pole as an elf. Thirty years later, however, he sticks out in a room full of elves and when Santa tells him the backstory he heads to New York City to find his father. Walter, the dad, is now married with a young son and doesn’t know he’s got a kid from a long ago college liaison. Walt’s also a workaholic for whom Christmas is nothing more than more stress.
And here comes Buddy!
Since it’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year® I am, uncharacteristically, going to take the high road and say that for the first act Elf the Musical has its own fun charm and flashes of genuine humor (script by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin.) I can’t say that the Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin score contains knockout numbers, but the music is bright and brassy with lots of pep.
Mark Fishback plays Santa and he’s got a great line in subtle drollery and bridges the comedy gap between big, safe yuks for the wee bairns and sly, wry jokes for the grown-ups.
In the lead role of Buddy, Eric Williams is like some sort of creature distilled from peppermint sticks and gummy bears and cinnamon drops and sugar cookies. And it’s genius! The role is, by design, relentlessly – if not brutally – upbeat and maniacally optimistic and Williams manages to fling that out over the footlights but (and this is the genius) without making you nauseous. He’s so adorable you just want to spread on a Triscuit and serve him to guests.
And because I’m trying to avoid finding lumps of coal in my hose, I’m going to end it there.
Except to say that if I’d left at intermission I’d call it an enjoyable, if fluffy, night. Unfortunately (and this is unique to my job) I’m required to see second acts …
The script just curdles into a mass of third-rate sentimentality and the story’s over about 30 minutes before the curtain comes down. And, without being too harsh, I understand there’s certain economic realities when touring a production which can only play for three months, but the threadbare, chintzy look I tried to overlook in the first act is impossible to ignore in act two.
But I’m not focusing on that and I’m just going to say fa la la la la la la la la.
And I hope you have a happy and healthy New Year.