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Charming Marriott Theatre Production Taps Into the Heart of 'Elf'

“Elf” will never be mistaken for one of the great entries in the American musical canon. Yet this holiday season show – based on the 2003 movie of the same name that starred Will Ferrell, and was first produced on Broadway in 2010 – is now receiving such a charming, heartfelt production at the Marriott Theatre that you easily can dance around the sight of all those green, curly-toed slippers worn by Santa Claus’ preternaturally happy elves.

In fact, you might well end up laughing and crying in spite of yourself as you watch actor Alex Goodrich (a singularly lovable fellow whose humanity invariably shines through all the goofiness), along with the many other topnotch actors working under the always genuine spirit of director-choreographer Marc Robin.

With a score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, and a playfully New York-centric book adapted from David Berenbaum’s screenplay by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan (the latter of “Annie” fame), “Elf” happily spends most of its time in New York rather than at the North Pole. And it comes laced with a decidedly cranky New York-centric spirit (including a group of under-appreciated department store Santas who join the Jews who traditionally eat at Chinese restaurants on Christmas), with all the one-liners to match.

Yet the real story here is universal. It’s about the way fathers and sons too often fail to connect emotionally.

It all begins when Buddy (Goodrich), an unusually tall, high-spirited, naturally musical, and somewhat less than super-productive elf learns from Santa (Roger Mueller as a football-loving everyman), that he is actually a human and was adopted after his mother died young, and her baby landed in Santa’s sack one Christmas eve. As it happens, Buddy was the product of a college romance, and his father, Walter Hobbs (Kevin Gudahl as an urbane contemporary Scrooge of sorts), now a successful publisher in New York, had no idea of his existence.

Now, Santa believes it is time Buddy met his real father and sends him off to Manhattan. Hobbs, as it turns out, is a workaholic with a Scrooge-like attitude toward Christmas, and both his wife, Emily (Susie McMonagle, who nails every sharp punchline), and young son, Michael (a confident, strong-voiced Cam Ezell), suffer from a desperate need for more connection. Enter Buddy, who Walter brands a psycho, but who very quickly is welcomed into the household by step-mom and step-brother. Of course after a good deal of heartbreak, Buddy (and his story) end up saving the day for all involved.

Along the way, Buddy falls in love with Jovie (Dara Cameron is wonderfully winning as the sardonic but lonely, always-gets-the-wrong-guy girl, and does a fine job belting out “Never Fall in Love”). He first encounters her among the Christmas workers at Macy’s, where the manager (a deft turn by James Earl Jones II), makes good use of him. Susan Moniz, Neil Friedman and George Keating add to the fun playing various characters in the publishing house operation.

Robin’s staging is fleet and funny, with one of his signature all-out tap-spectaculars devised for “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.” But it’s Goodrich, with his joyful way of moving, his guileless face and his innate honesty, who will steal your heart – whether he’s meeting a younger brother for the first time, struggling to ask Jovie out on a date, arriving at work in his new Brooks Brothers suit, or turning total dejection into a happy ending. The actor just transcends his elf shoes in ways David Sedaris never could.

To be sure, by the end of the run at Marriott you can only imagine how the backstage satire will have reached epic levels. But on stage a very different story is being told, and against all the odds, this cast makes it feel real.