IF YOU GO
What: Musical version of the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy about an orphan raised at the North Pole who decides to find his family
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday - Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m., 3 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 27 - Dec. 2)
Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 13350 Edison Parkway, Fort Myers
Cost: $67, $52, $42, $32
Information: Call 481-4849 or go to bbmannpah.com
Something Else: Parking is sometimes chaotic because of evening classes at Edison College. Park farther out and escape the after-show traffic jams.
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
FORT MYERS — Banish the cotton-headed ninny-muggins among you! "Elf the Musical" hits Fort Myers. Christmas is in the air, snowflakes are falling and Santas are scarfing Chinese food. This might not be the perfect show, but it entertains on a grand scale - and soars in places. Laugh, love and get festive!
Based on the 2003 film featuring Will Ferrell, "Elf" is the story of Buddy, a human orphan who crawls into Santa's sack and winds up at the North Pole. Raised as an elf, he sets out to find his human father - who never knew he had a son. Watch out New York!
The current "Elf" tour plays five cities in the run-up to Christmas. Plans for the tour started before "Elf" was revived for its concurrent Broadway run. Director Sam Scalamoni and choreographer Connor Gallagher took the opportunity to create a newer, fresher take on the show than the version that played Broadway during the 2010 holiday season.
"Elf" belongs to Matt Kopec. Full stop. Unload the presents, hand over the candy canes and deliver extra cocoa. The young actor delivers a high-energy, electrifying performance that should hurt in its saccharine sweetness but feels natural, goofily charming and amazingly, lovingly real. The show would never work if Kopec simply "acted" - he gives himself over to the role and strews Christmas cheer like a pack of kids running amok after tearing through huge stockings filled with Hershey bars and candy canes.
The show works best when Kopec commands the stage, especially in Gallagher's big, bouncy, joyful ensemble numbers that ripple with excitement and sweep the audience along on a tide of energetic choreography. Dancing elves toss packages in the jolly "Christmastown." Macy's workers - and an incredulous, hot-footed singing, dancing manager (Clyde Voce) decorate the store in "Sparklejollytwinklejingley." That last one? You'll want to get up out of your seat and go find ropes of sparkly garland to wear as a scarf!
What Kopec does so well is to spread the show's infectious, super-duper-happy, feel-good, message. From the huge smile to his mop of curls, his Buddy the Elf sells an idea of Christmas that means family, togetherness and believing in the idea of a holiday that isn't about presents. Pop culture jokes, modern touches and snarky asides litter the show too - making "Elf" both witty and charming.
"Elf" is not perfect; parts can drag like that whole "some assembly required" label on Christmas morning. Taken as a whole, the show rises or falls based on the strength of the individual scenes. Kids and adults alike will adore the frequent dance numbers - including the doo-wop "Nobody Cares About Santa Claus," with a dozen Santa's climbing chairs and bouncing around a Chinese place on Christmas Eve. Other spots? Lumpy as Aunt Martha's gravy.
The plot, with Buddy trying to connect with his human father, a workaholic businessman, feels flat. Scenes at the office and home never connect and feel low-energy compared to the other, more-festive parts of the show. I get that the show aims for some gravitas - but there's such a dramatic disconnect between the happy-happy and the woe-is-me-sad that the two halves feel like different musicals. Do look for blonde bombshell and whirlwind secretary Deb (Jen Bechter) in the office. She and Kopec have a fun paper-shredding scene making "snow."
There's also little chemistry between Kopec and Kate Hennies, who plays Buddy's human girlfriend Jovie. The musical asks Jovie to be angrier than the film, but the portrayal comes off cold on stage. Hennies does display a marvelous singing voice - and the two share a marvelous, hopeful scene under the Rockefeller Christmas tree.
Sound issues tortured the audience on opening night. The band drowned the singers for much of the first half and dialogue felt muffled for much of the second.
Count me among the fans of "Elf." Unless you're the grinchiest grinch who ever grinched, it is impossible to see the show, with its big storybook sets, rousing music and colorful costumes and come away unhappy. Big, bright, brash, bold and bouncy - "Elf" will propel you into Christmas with the force of a thousand reindeer! Wait. PETA sent that nasty letter to Santa. Scratch the reindeer!
What's your favorite Christmas tradition? Email me, email@example.com. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.