Should you Shelf Elf on Broadway?

Well, I wouldn't shelf Elf just yet, but if you see this musical version of the "new classic" Christmas movie, Elf, just don't be expecting...well...Broadway.

Elf, the Musical, has been around for a few years now, and hey, why not create a family musical from this heartwarming and funny Christmas movie? I am all up for spreading Christmas cheer; I will even watch Hallmark-type Christmas movies on Netflix, while I'm folding laundry or cleaning my bedroom. And even if I give them only 1 or 2 stars, I'll still watch another one the next time I'm hanging dresses! So really, you have to know that I cut a lot of slack for anything Christmas-related.

So when Elf came to NYC a few years ago, I put it on my "Christmas To Do" list for one of these years. And on December 11, my husband and I, along with our 3-year-old and 6-year-old kids met up with my in-laws in the city to get ourselves in the Christmas season by watching Elf at Madison Square Garden.

Across our three generations, I'd say we could give the show a solid 3 out of 5. It was well-done. The dancing, singing, acting were all of high caliber, as is more than expected, and the designs and direction were clean and parts were beautiful. But was the show amazing? Well...not really.

The book adaptations (by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan) from the movie made sense, keeping some important moments, condensing and changing as necessary. It worked, overall, although I thought they did try too hard to be "cool" to the older audience, sticking in phrases like, "Screw you," "That sucks" and "If you do xyz then I'll be less bitchy" (to which my 6-year-old loudly asked, "What does 'bitchy' mean?"). It was not really necessary and just made me cringe thinking what my little ones might decide to pick up.  There was also some sexual innuendo thrown in for adults, which most of us found amusing (and since it goes over the kids' head, I'm more comfortable with that), especially when Buddy sings of how he and his wife did a "special kind of hug" which made their baby.

The music, by Matthew Sklar (of "Wedding Singer," the musical, fame--I guess he is finding a niche in adapting movies into musicals?), while having some sweet moments (loved the end of the first act when Buddy and Jovie were singing about singing, and the bluesy lonely Santas were fun to watch), was not really anything to sing home about. I think the arrangement could have been a whole lot more inspiring if they'd put some more harmony in there. I am actually confused by their choice to keep almost all of the singing--no matter how many people were on stage--to one note at a time. There are definitely times in pieces where having 2 or 10 people singing the same melody can be very powerful. But when almost the entire show is done like this, it loses its power and just seems like the arrangement missed an opportunity to bring it to the next level. There were moments of harmony which were quite effective, showing us how much more interesting a song is when you include a few different parts.

The production was also fine, but not spectacular. The lights, sound, staging--all of it was well done. Nothing was "wrong" with what they did, but other than paper snow falling from the "sky" at one point (which oddly enough, also happened the last time I saw a show in MSG--Cirque du Soleil's attempt at a Christmas show), there was nothing really surprising or spectacular. I was actually looking forward to seeing how they would bring some magical theatrics to making the reindeer fly, or Buddy's path through the land of Candy Canes and through the Lincoln Tunnel. But they took the more conservative move of cutting the reindeer entirely (making a joke about PETA) and zooming through other aspects of the show to avoid complications. I know this is a traveling show, so I can understand if they don't want to invest 100% in a more permanent production. But I have seen directors do way more creative things using far far less. So, I'll just say, it was very nice--there were some special moments, like ice skating around the tree at Rockefeller Center--but they could have done more.

Overall, the show was fine (and the show has commercially done very well, by the way). My husband said he wasn't expecting much, so he wasn't disappointed. My mother-in-law mentioned wishing there had been some sort of group participation (what if they'd gotten the audience to "sing loud for all to hear?" I mean, it's a family show after all). And as for me? Well, you know I'll watch a bad hallmark movie if it has to do with Christmas (as long as I'm multi-tasking, that is--I tried to watch Netflix's A Very Murray Christmas, devoting 100% of my attention to it, and had to turn it off after 15 minutes.). So I did enjoy it, and it's better than a bad Hallmark movie. But did I think it was a great Broadway show? I'll end with a quote from my 6-year-old when I just asked him what he thought of Elf: "I don't really think it was too good, but it was pretty fun."

Share your thoughts: Have you seen a Christmas play that you loved? That you didn't enjoy? Have you seen Elf the Musical? What did you think? Did you like Elf the movie? What's your favorite Christmas movie?