A group of ten actors in elf costumes kneel in front of a sign reading "Christmas Town." Buddy the Elf, in a green costume and cap, stands in the center. Two other actors stand near the end of the frame behind the kneeling company.
Ben Dow (center) and the company of Elf at Drury Lane Theatre Credit: Brett Beiner Photography

Like much that passes for entertainment during the holiday season, this 2010 musical, based on the 2003 movie, lives on the infinitely thin line between charm and utter stupidity. The characters are all derived from earlier entertainments and holiday advertising—jolly old Santa Claus, his myriad elf slaves, the sweet naif who believes in “the spirit of Christmas,” the sour workaholic/nonbeliever/misanthrope who doesn’t—and the happy endings they find themselves trapped in are no less well-worn and formulaic. The naif redeems, the skeptic learns to love Christmas, the orphan finds his father—and a family.

Through 1/8: Wed 1:30 PM, Thu 1:30 and 8 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 3 and 8 PM, Sun 2 and 6 PM; also Thu 11/24 3 PM only, Tue-Wed 12/20-12/21 1:30 and 7 PM, no performance Sat-Sun 12/24-12/25, Wed 12/28 1:30 and 8 PM, Sat 12/31 5 and 8:30 PM, Sun 1/1 2 PM only; Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, 630-530-0111, drurylanetheatre.com, $75-$85

The true miracle is that director/choreographer Lynne Kurdziel Formato and her cast and crew are able to weave a pretty entertaining evening out of this insubstantial stuff. Part of the credit surely must go to book writers Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin and composer Matthew Sklar, who were inspired enough, and respectful enough of the original movie (which is not bad), not to ruin it. Chad Beguelin’s lyrics are even at times pretty witty (“to thine own elf be true”).
But most of the credit for creating a holiday show that actually entertains must go to the folks at Drury Lane. The whole production is imbued with a happy, playful spirit that, like a clever TV commercial, makes every familiar trope and cliche feel shiny and new. The pace of the show is live and quick. And whenever things slow down, Formato speeds things up with her inventive choreography. Ben Dow is delightful as the show’s protagonist Buddy the Elf; God bless him for playing a character made famous by Will Ferrell and making it his own.