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What's the story with Buddy the elf, eh? Oh, you know Buddy. Will Ferrell made him famous, remember? All the way back in 2003, when Hollywood introduced us to Santa's not-so-little helper; an orphan boy who crawled his way into the Big Guy's toy sack one Christmas Eve and grew up in the North Pole with all the other elves.

When he was 30, Santa told him he was human. He should have guessed. It's one of our favourite festive films, and now it's a Broadway musical, making its European premiere on a Dublin stage. Lucky us.

Granted, the movie benefitted hugely from Ferrell's wonderfully charismatic turn as the gangly, green simpleton who travels to New York City to find his real dad, falling in love with a department store worker along the way. The message was simple: go silly, or go home.

So, how does it work with jazz hands and big-band musical numbers? Beautifully, as a matter of fact. This time around, Santa narrates the story, adding a touch of localised humour to proceedings (some of the one-liners work; others, not so much), but the heart of the original tale is all there. Buddy finds dad (Walter Hobbs) at the Empire State Building where the latter works for a publishing house.

Buddy picks up a job at Macy's and asks one of his colleagues, Jovie, out on a date. Buddy moves in with the Hobbs and wins over Walter's wife and 12-year-old son. Buddy is…everywhere.

A delightfully offbeat, fish-out-of water yarn with hilarious consequences, Elf requires a strong lead, then. At first glance, the amiable Ben Forster is more chirpy Hobbit than dopey Ferrell (it's the wig), but boy, does he have fun with this role, utilising a marvellous set of pipes alongside exceptional comic timing.


Aoibhinn McGinnity's Jovie is slightly underused (the script calls for a quirky girlfriend is all) but impresses nonetheless, not least on her jazzy solo number, Never Fall in Love with an Elf (the songs are fabulous, it has to be said). Joe McGann (Walter) does a great, grumpy New Yorker, and the rest of the Hobbs are perfectly cast, but it's the little things that make this most ambitious of seasonal productions special.

The hysterical elves at Santa's workshop; department stores that blind us with endless reams of tinsel; depressed Santas drinking beers in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve and Forster's over-the-top outbursts. A splendid musical man, the guy is freakin' hilarious in the part. Sure, Forster gets all the best lines, but he also makes us forget about the original leading man.

In short, Elf the Musical works, combining just the right dollop of adult humour and cheesy sentiments to keep us glued. As for that amazing finale, you've seen the film, right? My goodness, Santa really can fly. Spectacular stuff. HHHHI

Running until January 10