KEARNEY — Tall and lanky, Buddy the Elf stands out at the North Pole because of his size. In the real world, he stands out because of his enthusiasm and innocence.
In one scene, security officers escort him away from Macy’s Department Store after a ruckus, telling him they are going to “cool his heels” down at the police station. Buddy responds with, “Ooo, good. You have no idea how hot my heels have been.”
Crane River Theater’s production of “Elf the Musical” innocently plays with concepts, twisting words to emphasize Buddy’s relationship with the world of Santa Claus and the cynicism of New Yorkers coping with another Christmas holiday. Only this time all the myths of the holiday seem to come true right before their jaded eyes.
The musical opens at 7 p.m. today at the Merryman Performing Arts Center and continues with four additional performances through Sunday. Tickets start at $25.
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Based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, “Elf the Musical” follows Buddy Hobbs, an orphaned child who accidentally crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and ends up at the North Pole. Santa and the other elves decide to raise the child as an elf. As an adult, Santa urges Buddy to head to New York City to search for his real father.
For audiences not yet immersed in the spirit of the holiday, “Elf the Musical” powers through the hype to remind everyone of the power of Christmas. Dan Beckmann plays the role of Buddy with such honesty and innocence that he quickly wins over the other characters — as well as audience members who pride themselves on looking beyond the tinsel. Beckmann’s portrayal questions authority, fights apathy and lifts spirits in a most satisfying way.
The production includes a cast of about 50 people.
At times the stage teems with personalities but director Steve Barth uses composition, lighting and set design to makes sure the important segments of the story stand out from all the hustle and bustle. Kearney audiences might remember Beckmann from his former Crane River Theater shows including “Shrek the Musical” and “Peanuts.” Other local favorite performers include Ben Hill, Bryce Jensen, Eileen Jahn, Eric Wood, Jason Alexander, Joe Knispel, Owen Biggs — and the list goes on.
One highlight comes gift wrapped in the form of the musical number, “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” an old-fashioned song-and-dance piece that throws in all the bells, whistles and candy canes. Buddy whips up the holiday spirit with this song after the manager of Macy’s Christmas display, played by Brian Jenkins, assumes that the pseudo elf is from the corporate office.
Forget the plot twists and the character development. This show pulls its energy — and message — from the sheer joy of the season. For two and a half hours, the cast allows audience members to shelve their worries and concerns, replacing those emotions with innocence and excitement.
Theresa Rowely as Jovie adds a touch of romance to this wild romp — as innocently as possible — with Buddy. The huge elf describes his feelings for her as a sort of “warmth” that envelopes his heart, a perfect description of falling in love.
Part of the fun of “Elf the Musical” comes from the transformations of the stage as the scene locations jump from place to place. Scene designer Bob Heiden creates worlds that speak volumes from a painted backdrop, a table and a few chairs on the stage. Combined with the talent of the cast and the vision of the director, “Elf the Musical” provides a delightful evening of entertainment and enlightenment, especially for any Grinch in the audience or any Scrooge in the ticket line.