BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
Returning for the holiday season to the Al Hirschfeld Theater, where it originally played in 2010, the musical “Elf” remains a jingly, jolly family show.
Drawn from the Will Ferrell movie, the comical musical relates the saga of Buddy, a fellow reared by Santa’s elves at the North Pole, who discovers he is human and heads to New York City. Buddy’s misadventures with his new-found family and friends in places like Macy’s and Central Park snowball into diverting entertainment.
This intentionally retro musical comedy is set more or less in the present but recalls light-hearted 1960s Broadway shows in style, looks and tunes. The amusing script by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin is brightened by a thoroughly jaunty score from composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin. David Rockwell’s snazzy settings smoothly bring on the Rockefeller Center ice rink and other landmarks.
These ultra-professional elements are expertly marshaled by director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who assembles an excellent company to make the most of it all.
Wayne Knight – Newman from “Seinfeld” – easily narrates the story as Santa, but the show mostly spins around Buddy, who is winningly embodied by Jordan Gelber. His shiny face and roly-poly form suiting the ingenuous Buddy adorably, Gelber romps through the festivities with irrepressible high spirits.
While Gelber is a welcome newcomer to the production, its more than capable alumni members feature Mark Jacoby as the sourpuss dad and Beth Leavel as his warm-hearted wife.
New to the role of a disillusioned Macy’s employee who brightens up in Buddy’s presence, Leslie Kritzer delivers the funny “Never Fall in Love (With an Elf”) with wry pizzazz. Other high points in the musical include “Nobody Cares About Santa,” a jazzy, foot-stomping lament for Buddy and crew of disgruntled out of work department store Saint Nicks; “There is a Santa Claus,” a joyous realization of the holiday spirit exuberantly voiced by Leavel with youngster Mitchell Sink; and “The Story of Buddy the Elf,” a punchy number with a catchy chorus that, as performed by most of the company, nearly brings down the house. Rolling along agreeably for its earlier stretches, the musical really takes off in the second act.
Not everybody’s cup of cocoa, of course, “Elf” remains tasty holiday entertainment, served with high spirits to family audiences – as well as to Broadway regulars who will appreciate the terrific musical comedy expertise displayed by the show’s makers and performers. Cheers to you all.
“Elf” continues through Jan. 6 at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, 302 W. 45th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.elfmusical.com.