"Elf: The Musical" is an example of an adaptation done right. Based on the popular film of the same name, this staged version is fun for kids, edgy enough for adults and endearing for all.
The show opens with Santa (Gordon Gray) at home in front of the TV, preparing to share the story of Buddy the elf. (This is one of the more noticeable differences between the musical and film. In the movie, Bob Newhart narrates as Papa Elf, Buddy's adoptive father.)
Buddy (Matt Kopec) is born an ordinary human child and is sent to live in an orphanage after his mother dies. One Christmas Eve, Santa comes calling. Unbeknownst to St. Nick, Buddy crawls into his sack of toys and is transported to the North Pole, where the elves raise him as their own. For 28 years, he thinks he's a very tall elf.
One day, Buddy inadvertently learns that he is, in fact, human and that his human father, Walter Hobbs (Drew Pulver), is alive in New York City. Santa sends him to find his dad - an A-lister among naughty children of the world - and infuse Christmas spirit into his life.
In the big city, Buddy meets his dad and stepmom (Julia Louise Hosack). He introduces cold spaghetti drowned in maple syrup to his half-brother, Michael (Connor Barth). He falls in love with Jovie (Kate Hennies), a part-time pseudo elf at Macy's, and revives Christmas for everyone.
The film's heart beats strong on stage, but don't expect to see another Will Ferrell. Unlike Ferrell's overgrown-child interpretation in the movie, Kopec's Buddy is exuberant yet wise. He is a wonderful cross between the Scarecrow from Oz and Martin Short's "Saturday Night Live" character, Ed Grimley. His astounding, sparkly energy is a genuine show of goodness, optimism and humanity.
The rest of the cast shines just as much. Though young, Barth's acting and vocal skills are already well honed. Hosack's performance as the mother is realistic and modern, with several good punches of wacky humor. Jen Bechter is delicious in the buxom role of Deb, Walter's secretary. She lands some of the better lines, especially in the scene about a legless Hungarian boy.
The overall production is a rare blend of contemporary and classic that works. Bound in a storybook set design, the show's references to Charlie Sheen, PETA and the iPad make way for choreographed numbers that recall the likes of Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Cyd Charisse.
A few rough transitions between scenes jar an otherwise smooth move, thanks to Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin's book, Matthew Sklar's toe-tapping music and Chad Beguelin's smart lyrics.
When: Through Nov. 25; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Straz Center, Morsani Hall, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa
Tickets: $38.50 to $79.50
Running Time: 120 minutes; (813) 229-7827 or visit www.strazcenter.org