As Black Friday looms, maybe it's time to pause and reflect on the "true meaning of Christmas" before we open our wallets -- if we can just figure out what it is.
"Elf," the touring show now playing at the Benedum, wants to help. With the tireless (and occasionally tiresome) Matt Kopec as the title character, the musical jumbles all the messages of good cheer from most of the popular Christmas books and movies, including a little David Sedaris, into a glossy holiday package. But, like that generic greeting card from a relative you haven't seen in years, "Elf" is just as forgettable.
There are no distinctive songs that linger or razzle-dazzle dance numbers that inspire you to try a few steps later. Instead, the only message of "cheer" that hangs on is, "Lower your expectations. That way, you'll avoid disappointment."
The curiously named Jovie (Kate Hennies) utters those depressing words. She's the elf's love interest, a cynical young woman in the Macy's Department Store's Santa Claus land presented with a tinge of Mr. Sedaris' short story. The elf, also known as Buddy, wanders into the New York store in his North Pole get-up of striped tights, curled-toe shoes and pointy hat hoping to find his father.
The musical is based on the 2003 Will Ferrell movie, "Elf," in which an orphan is raised by Santa and his elves, then leaves the North Pole to live as a real person. As can be imagined, a rough transition follows, but thanks to Buddy's "Happy Holidays" upbringing, he tries to be optimistic and make everybody else feel good, too.
Mr. Kopec, whose goofy smile reminds us of Martin Short, drags this paint-by-the-numbers musical along through its more-than-2-hour voyage to Christmas Eve with an engaging, unflagging energy. The hard-working non-Equity cast tries to keep up with Mr. Kopec, a tough job, to be sure.
Among the standouts are Tyler Altomari, a talented youngster playing Buddy's half-brother and Jacqueline Grabois as a gal Friday to Buddy's daddy, the Scrooge-like Walter (Matthew Alan Smith).
A presentation of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Broadway Across America, "Elf" is a professionally crafted production from its versatile, clever sets to its solid band of musicians. Despite these smoothly working parts, the musical feels like a cookie-cutter, albeit Christmas cookie, operation.
So, best heed the advice of Jovie and lower your expectations. You won't be disappointed.