Sweet, Syrupy Holiday Fun

Elf is onstage at Providence Performing Arts Center until Nov. 10.


Matt Kopec (Buddy) in Elf: The Musical.

Joan Marcus

When we see a holiday show, we’re after more than glittery scenes, one-liners about the in-laws and cheerful song and dance. We want the performance to give us something we’ve been missing all year long — that feeling, that holiday feeling no sunny summer day could evoke. And, weeks before the official Christmas countdown begins, Elf: The Musical delivers.

It starts at PPAC Square. Is it snowing? Is that Santa? Does he have CANDYCANES?! As my date and I approach the entryway, we stick out our tongues and lift our open palms to the sky to touch our very first snowflakes of the season. (My date is five-and-a-half; I don’t have an excuse.) It isn’t natural snow — PPAC pulled out all the stops for the performance — but it’s cold and melts into our hair like the real thing, and it is magical.

We arrive early, which could spell disaster with a young child, but he was so struck by the spectacle at the door that he waits patiently, staring at the light blue and sparkling stage screen and searching for Santa between games of rocks, paper, scissors. Sure enough, when the lights dim and the music starts, Saint Nick appears in his chair at the North Pole, exhausted by a long night of delivering presents. Before his in-laws show up, he wants to share the tale of Buddy the Elf, a redhead who wins his way into the hearts of two renowned communities: the North Pole and New York City.

Buddy, played by a decidedly gleeful Matt Kopec, was just an infant when he crawled into Santa’s bag and was mistakenly transported back to the North Pole. Knowing his story — Buddy’s mom died young and his dad didn’t know about him — Santa and the elves decided to keep him.

But Buddy’s stature and slow toy-building skills lead him to the truth: He is in fact a human, and his father lives in New York City. Buddy then embarks on a journey to find and win over his curmudgeon of a dad, played by Connor Barth.

Elf is based on the 2003 Hollywood film starring Will Ferrell, and though the musical may not be as effortlessly funny as the original, it’s still packed with holiday cheer and laugh-out-loud scenes, including Buddy’s first day on the job as a department store elf. Both young and old will get a kick out of a six-foot-tall man in tights exposing a faux Santa by tearing off his beard.

The stage adaptation also cuts out much of the budding romance between Buddy and Jovie, played by Kate Hennies. It’s a noted loss, as Hennies is an endearing Jovie with a lovely voice. But brand-new musical scenes — including one set in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve featuring Buddy and an assortment of depraved Santas declaring, in angst, that “nobody cares about Santa” — burst out of nowhere but fit seamlessly into the plot.

In the end, Buddy’s mantra — “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear” — dripped, like the syrup he puts on his spaghetti, off the stage and into the audience. As we exited, we joined our fellow silly theatergoers in an appropriately awkward, offbeat rendition of the "I'm singing! I'm in a store and I'm singing!" tune, inspiring an ear-to-ear grin on a sleepy kid who, after that performance, is excited and ready for the holidays.

Elf is onstage at PPAC until Saturday, November 10. Tickets are $41 to $68; Macy's Family Night, on November 7, offers free tickets to youth ages eighteen and younger with the purchase of a full-priced ticket. Call the box office at 421-2787 or visit ppacri.org for more information. 

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