It's about time elves get some credit for contributing to Christmas cheer. An animatronic snowman, a nasally challenged reindeer, even a chorus of caroling chipmunks have gotten their chance, but not until recently have the cleverly brainwashed workers who gleefully assemble the toys gotten credit.
Elf The Musical has come to the Providence Performing Arts Center (through November 10) and, like the 2003 movie it sets to song, it's more about the generosity of spirit that this time of year can spark and less about the commercial enterprise that the holiday has become. The book is by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, with choreography by Connor Gallagher and direction by Sam Scalamoni.
This is the story of Buddy the elf (Matt Kopec), who crawled into Santa's bag of deliveries one Christmas 30 years before and has been brought up by the North Pole elves ever since. One day, shortly before Christmas, he overhears mention that he is human and is thunderstruck, though being twice their height should have been a clue. He says he'll miss the polar bear tipping and chunking snowballs at the Japanese whaling vessels, but he treks the 3000-plus miles to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs (Drew Pulver), whose name and workplace Santa (Gordon Gray) kindly provides (no mention is made of kidnapping charges being filed, perhaps because the statute of limitations has expired). The deceased mother never told the father about the birth after their college fling.
The accused father turns him away, of course, but a subplot develops before all that is resolved. He finds himself mistaken for one of the make-believe elves at the Macy's whadda-ya-want-kid Santa line. One of them is the lovely but hardly jovial Jovie (Kate Hennies), and poor Buddy is smitten, despite her being almost as much of an anti-Christmas curmudgeon as his father. Nevertheless, we are to believe that she accepts a date with him and that he and his arm-flapping, giddy, childlike ways win her over. In the lively production number "Sparklejollytwinklejingley," Buddy slowly brightens his grumbly workmates into grinning Christmas cheer.
The best bit with the Macy's interlude is when Buddy says that he was sent by "the big guy from up North" and the hostile store manager (Clyde Voce), thinking he was sent from corporate, becomes obsequiously compliant.
Kopec is the perfect physical type for Buddy, with a red shock of hair to seasonally complement the green of his elvish attire, thin and tall to suggest a gangly lack of self-consciousness. Hennies's Jovie doesn't have to be more than pretty, since the role doesn't require the acting she provides, just an emotional about-face to appreciate Buddy. In "A Christmas Song," he softens her heart enough to get her to sing with him. Julia Louise Hosack provides energy as Walter's clever wife Emily, who solves the whole paternity issue, and Connor Barth is in great voice as their 12-year-old son Michael, especially in the "I'll Believe In You" and "There Is a Santa Claus" duets with Hosack. In a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve, there's a wonderful production number, the mordant "Nobody Cares About Santa." with a bunch of fake streetcorner and department store Santas, the Macy's manager and Buddy.