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Sweet ‘Elf’ soars on strong Sam Hartley performance

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Elf: The Musical

Quentin Booth II, left, and Sam Hartley enjoy the spoils of the holiday in "Elf: The Musical."

If you didn’t think it was possible to turn Will Ferrell’s “Elf” into a splashy musical, think again.

Even though parts of the touring production of “Elf: The Musical” are a little half-baked, the show delivers such a hefty helping of happiness it’s hard to leave without smiling.

Credit Sam Hartley as Buddy the Elf with making this confection (which stopped at the Orpheum Theatre Sunday) tastier than you ever thought possible. Eschewing Ferrell’s goofy take on the character, he shows Buddy isn’t just interested in candy canes and candy corn. He’s a genuinely nice guy who wants happiness for everyone.

Oversized for the North Pole (he’s 6 feet 2 inches) and not so good at making toys, Buddy learns the truth at 30 – he’s a human who, as a baby, hitched a ride with Santa. Claiming him as one of their own, the elves overlooked some of his faults and enjoyed the perks he brought to the North Pole basketball team.

An overheard conversation, however, reveals his real background, prompting Buddy to want to meet his dad, a book publisher named Walter Hobbs (John Adkison). Buddy walks the distance (more than 3,000 miles), winds up in New York and discovers a whole other world.

Director Sam Scalamoni manages to cover an awful lot of territory in three songs, thanks to clever lyrics by Chad Beguelin and bouncy music by Matthew Sklar.

While the show’s book is awfully thin in parts (a quick girlfriend for Buddy has almost no storyline but one good song that Jennifer Maurer sells with abandon), it gets the oversized elf where he needs to be.

It’s easy to see parallels between this and dozens of musicals and, if you listen closely, you’ll hear echoes of “Chicago’s” “Roxie” in one of the numbers. The joy, though, is watching all of the very talented dancers sweat through some fairly involved choreography in Macy’s, a Chinese restaurant and the elf workshop at the North Pole. They’re put to the test (thanks to Connor Gallagher’s choreography) and come through in flying (sorry) colors.

Because “Elf: The Musical” can’t be another “Miracle on 34th Street,” there also has to be a subplot. That involves Walter’s family – a son named Michael (Quentin Booth II) and a wife, Emily (Marie Lemon) – who just want a little more time with him. Buddy helps make that happen while also brightening up Macy’s, giving editors a new book idea and proving to everyone (shades of “Peter Pan”), there’s nothing wrong with believing.

Hartley breezes through all of the scenes even though Christine Peters’ sets look a little ragged this early in the holiday season. Peters manages to suggest Rockefeller Center, Central Park and various other locations with little more than drops and painted flats but it would have been nice to at least see the big tree lit.

Because it’s based on a popular film, “Elf” has to include key scenes. It does, but something like Buddy’s list of the five food groups could be played for more laughs than it is.

Thankfully, Hartley makes this elf his own, forcing audiences to look at the show through different eyes.

When several Santa Clauses convene at a Chinese restaurant, the musical gets a dandy dance number and a pretty good way for parents to answer the “Is there really a Santa Claus?” question.

The real Santa opens and closes the show, offering an epilogue to Buddy’s adventure. It’s a charmer that’ll make you want to reach for a cookie the minute it’s over.

If one’s not available, there’s always candy, candy corn, candy canes and maple syrup to consider.


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