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‘Elf the Musical’ is the holiday gift you’d love to exchange for something better

Cutting straight to the bottom line with the copycat “Elf the Musical”: Should you take your kids? If you have to get out of the house and you need something to anchor everyone for two and a half hours, maybe.

This 2010 adaptation of the 2003 Will Ferrell film is exactly the gaudy knockoff you expect. At least the Olney Theatre Center has the right guy to play the Ferrell part of Buddy, the 30-year-old elf. David Schlumpf is a big fella, built like Ferrell, appealingly jolly and practically cross-eyed with good cheer.

The musical generally follows the movie plot as Buddy, larger than the other elves at the North Pole, learns he is human and came from an orphanage but has a dad somewhere in New York City. There, of course, his fizzy Christmas spirit transforms the jaded old town, including his grumpy pop.

The score sounds like Broadway — peppy, swingy, nothing original — a career boost at the time for composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin, whose new show “The Prom” just opened on Broadway. The script gets a little naughtier than the picture, with punchlines about (a vulgar word for catty) Jovie, who is Buddy’s love interest once he starts working as a department store elf. There is also a number, which seemed better when this backfiring vehicle parked at the Kennedy Center in 2013, with mopey department store Santas guzzling beer after work at a Chinese restaurant and forming an angry kickline. Ho, ho, ho.


David Schlumpf as Buddy the Elf and the ensemble of “Elf the Musical” at the Olney Theatre Center. (Stan Barouh)

There’s a big, bright ice-blue set by Daniel Ettinger, choreography with an interesting playground stunt or two by Tara Jeanne Vallee, a nine-piece orchestra out of sight under the stage, actors on their knees playing elves at the North Pole, and actors in candy-cane tights playing elves in Macy’s. Director Michael J. Bobbitt makes sure the show’s batteries are fully charged, but it’s dispiritingly generic even for kids, and there’s nothing here for adults.

Elf the Musical, book by Thomas Meehan & Bob Martin, music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Directed by Michael J. Bobbitt. Music director, Angie Benson; costumes, Kendra Rai; lights, Max Doolittle; sound design, Matt Rowe; projections, Sarah Tundermann; puppets, Kylie Clark. About two and a half hours. Through Jan. 6 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd. $59-$84. 301-924-3400 or olneytheatre.org

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