Based on the 2003 Will Ferrell movie of the same name, Elf is a lively and colourful musical which is lifted beyond the limitations of a extremely simplistic plot by its relentlessly energetic and enthusiastic cast, most notably Ben Forster and Joe McGann.
Forster plays Buddy, one of Santa’s little helpers who suddenly discovers that he’s not really an Elf but the human son of a mid-ranking publishing executive and his deceased college girlfriend.
This revelation takes Buddy to New York where he expects to be welcomed with open arms by long-lost dad Walter (McGann) but instead discovers a modern day Scrooge with little interest in his current wife and their son and even less in clutching Buddy to his bosom.
With rejection fresh in his ears, Buddy looks for love elsewhere and sets off to woo shop assistant Jovie (Kimberley Walsh) but when a work crisis threatens Walter’s employment it’s Buddy who has the solution and ultimately brings the family together.
Make no mistake, Elf is not complicated stuff.
The wafer-thin plot would struggle to fill a dozen or so pages in even the wordiest of picture books but the production is polished, fun and entertaining thanks to the cast’s efforts and some suitably cheery and festive music and lyrics from Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar.
Yet I do have some grumbles.
For some reason the play’s writers have opted to squeeze in a number of graceless double entendres which jar with the otherwise simplistic and nuance-free story.
A gag about Buddy staring up Jovie’s skirt just seemed crass and his closing mention of a special a type of “cuddle” which resulted in Jovie having a baby was just odd.
And while I accept this isn’t a panto, the story offers up a great potential for some audience participation which is unforgivably allowed to pass by unactioned.
As the story draws to a close Santa’s sleigh crashes in Central Park and can only fly again if Buddy finds enough people to declare their belief in Santa to refuel it with Christmas spirit. But instead of calling on the audience, Buddy leaves the job to a couple of ensemble performers who on the night I attended didn’t look much like they cared either way.
I can’t help but think that kids in the audience would loved to have gone home knowing that they’d helped restore the sleigh’s magical properties and allowed Santa to complete his annual delivery.
But overall Elf makes for an enjoyable family night out and a great introduction to theatre for younger kids.
Elf The Musical is running at London’s Dominion Theatre until January 2nd. Visit elfthemusical.co.uk for bookings and prices.