By Martin F. Kohn, EncoreMichigan.com
I suspect that in real life Matt Kopec can sit still, although his hyperkinetic performance in the touring musical “Elf The Musical” provides little evidence to support that hypothesis. As the title character, Buddy the Elf (who is really a human raised by Santa’s helpers), Kopec sings and dances, mugs shamelessly, gestures broadly and scampers about the stage like a five-month-old Labradoodle.
These aren’t bad things in a big venue like the Detroit Opera House where the kids in the last row of the balcony, like any other paying customers, deserve to go home happy. It plays at the Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. Tuesday-Sunday through Dec. 15.
Happy is the operative word here. Based on the perky 2003 movie that starred Will Ferrell, “Elf” the musical has enjoyed a couple of holiday season runs on Broadway and has now taken to the road. Its songs, by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, are generally upbeat if not terribly memorable, and its book, by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, no strangers to merriment – having performed similar chores on “Annie” and “The Producers” (Meehan) and “The Drowsy Chaperone” (Martin) – has enough dashes of grown-up humor to keep parents interested.
The production, directed by Sam Scalamoni, is colorful and lively and full of comfort and joy. We care about Buddy, and (spoiler alert, sort of) everything turns out all right in the end. If you’re looking for something different to take the kids to this Christmas season, “Elf” could be just the ticket.
Familiarity with the movie is not a prerequisite. And if the movie’s Papa Elf character (played by Bob Newhart) is a favorite, someone may be disappointed: The character doesn’t appear in the musical.
So here’s the story: Buddy, the tallest elf at the North Pole, turns out not be an elf at all. A human orphan, he crawled into Santa’s sack one Christmas Eve. All grown up now, Buddy finally realizes there’s something wrong. Santa (Gordon Gray), who knows all, informs Buddy that the father who never knew of his existence (Buddy’s mother died) is alive and living in New York. Buddy sets off to find him.
Dad Walter (Matthew Alan Smith) turns out to be a grumpy executive, rendered cheerless by pressures at work. Not only is he put off by a childlike man wearing a green elf suit and claiming to be his son, he has no time for the family he already knows: wife Emily (U-M alumna Jane Bruce) and 12-year-old son (young Tyler Altomari). Incidentally, Walter looks so much like NBC newsman Chuck Todd that you’re waiting for him to reveal the White House soup of the day.
After sundry adventures and misadventures in New York, including a love interest (Kate Hennies), Buddy manages to teach Dad the true meaning of…oh, heck, you don’t need to know all this. Just go and enjoy.
Martin F. Kohn reviews local theater productions for www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.