If you are craving perky cup of holiday grog that goes down easily, the production of “Elf” at the Curran Theatre may be the brew for you.
There was certainly enough charm in the story of Buddy, the human baby raised at the North Pole by elves, to craft a hit film in 2003, blessed as it was with Will Ferrell’s freewheeling man-child performance.
The plot has been tweaked by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin to make room for song and dance, but there should still be enough nostalgia-inducing quotes from David Berrenbaum’s screenplay to satisfy fans. (“Santa! I know him!”)
Those coming to the production without this built-in affection may be confounded by shallowly-written characters and an undernourished score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (“The Wedding Singer”).
From the latter there are really only three take-home tunes. “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” is a cute get-in-the-mood number for the Yule-resistant. “A Christmas Song” has that infectious, gotta-sing-along quality that the plot needs right before the interval. Then, at the top of Act 2, “Nobody Cares About Santa” is a show-stopping ode to Claus and neglect.
That’s it, though.
Plotting its path, the emotional heart of the production should live in Buddy’s journey to find family. Instead, surprisingly, it really beats in the relationship between the long-suffering, oft-neglected New York City wife and son of Walter, Buddy’s new-found father.
Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Emily (the wife) and Harper S. Brady (sharing the part with Tyler Altomari) as Michael (the son) nicely trade alternating sides of the parent-child dynamic, laced with droll foxhole commiseration about their patriarchal dysfunction. It’s a sweet, loving relationship.
Also on the plus side are Ken Clement as the salty, pragmatic 21st-century storyteller Santa, and an energetic ensemble who make the most – sometimes on their knees – of Connor Gallagher’s choreography.
As Buddy, Eric Williams seems to be six actors in search of a character. Tall and limber, he’s a sweet green sprout who plays the physical comedy well. Unfortunately his approach to the script feels see-what-sticks scattershot, without the manic focus of a Robin Williams, or even a Will Ferrell.
It’s a marathon performance that director Sam Scalamoni should have helped refine before sending the kid out on the road. The same could be said of Jesse Sharp’s one-dimensional Walter and some other performances that only reach slightly higher.
So, come all ye faithful for a sticky-sweet see-it-live bit of elf-serving elf-indulgence, but those counting their entertainment calories may want to skip dessert.
Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., S.F.
When: Daily, through Dec. 28, except no performance on Christmas Day
Tickets: $45 to $160
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com