Elf the Musical, presented Dec. 16-21 at the Murat Theatre at Old National Centre, is a perky romp with a heartfelt message of joy to the world and songs that stay with you the next day — “Just sing a Christmas song and keep on singing all season long…”
The musical’s storyline — which finds an orphan boy turned man in pursuit of his true identity — is simple but not simple-minded, and the wacky-wise characterization of Buddy Elf by Daniel Patrick Smith brings to mind the charismatic Danny Kaye. His Elf glides through serious business with a wink and a nod.
Mark Fishback’s adroit Santa sets the pace in his domain at the North Pole. He’s up-to-date about sports and general matters in Indianapolis — and we smile at the inside joke, since Fishback is one of our own, having honed his character acting skills on stages all around our city.
Daryn Harrell is a standout as Jovie, the immediate love interest of Buddy. She delivers “Never Fall in Love [with an Elf]” with New Yorker heartrending savvy. "You made it snow," she tells Buddy, and so she opts for the long haul of life with a person whose over-the-top exuberance annoys just about everyone else.
The entire cast gives an edge to what easily could be an ho-hum story with stock characters. With a whiff of Wizard of Oz, we learn what really powers Santa’s jet-set deliveries on Christmas Eve. The Elves could double for Munchkins.
Connor Gallagher’s choreography evolves naturally from the action and Sam Scalamoni’s deft direction sparkles the incisive book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and music by Matthew Sklar.
There’s a comfortable connection with the original film by David Berrenbaum, but if you missed it, no worries; the musical sashays on its own with an upbeat live orchestra, funky costumes and suggestive sets.