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‘Elf the Musical’: Five movie highlights you won’t see on stage

Noah Marlowe (Michael) Will Blum (Buddy) 'Elf Musical.' | © Amy Boyle Photography 2013

Noah Marlowe (Michael) and Will Blum (Buddy) in "Elf the Musical." | © Amy Boyle Photography 2013

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‘ELF THE MUSICAL’

When: Tuesday through Dec. 15

Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre,
151 W. Randolph

Tickets : $18-$90

Info: (800) 775-2000;
BroadwayInChicago.com

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Updated: December 26, 2013 6:02AM



When the Will Ferrell comedy “Elf” opened in 2003, director Jon Favreau had ambitions of creating a holiday classic that would stand the test of time, even borrowing low-tech visuals from TV’s stop-motion perennials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

The movie became a hit beyond anyone’s expectations, grossing more than $200 million worldwide. It now has spawned a musical version making its Chicago debut this week at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

With that popularity came challenges for the people adapting the story for the stage. They couldn’t recreate the movie scene by scene — the stage has its limitations — but they knew repeated viewing on DVD and multitudinous TV airings have made some fans intimate with every detail.

“We looked at the film quite a few times, of course,” co-writer Bob Martin says, “but once the [stage] script was structurally sound, we sort of let it have its own life.”

The book writers brought lustrous credentials to the project: Martin won Tonys both for his acting and his writing on “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and collaborator Thomas Meehan’s credits include “Annie” and “The Producers.”

Once they had shaped their version — overhauling the second half of the story in the process — they revisited the film and discovered some “comic gems” that needed restoring.

“There are huge fans of the film who basically memorized it,” Martin says, “and we realized we wanted to give them the moments they loved so much.”

But not all of them. Here are five highlights of the “Elf” movie that you won’t see in the “Elf” musical.

‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’

Ferrell’s Buddy, a human who grew up at Santa’s workshop and comes to New York in search of his birth father, duets with new acquaintance Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) on the beloved winter standard. That didn’t make the cut, and not just because of the creepiness of a grown man lurking outside a woman’s shower. “There is danger when you’re writing an original score that when you include a classic, people will compare the music to that song people have loved for generations,” Martin says. Instead, the smitten couple sings a new number while ice-skating.

The 12-second belch

While the stage Buddy skips this impressive digestive feat, Martin notes that he does gross out the audience with his consumption of spaghetti with maple syrup. And “he has a fantastic solo on bells that’s sort of show-stopping, tour-de-force moment,” he says. “Granted, it’s not as disgusting as a 12-second burp.”

The snowball fight

There is snow in the musical, Martin says, but not the scene where Buddy overcomes the skepticism of his 12-year-old half-brother Michael by hurling rapid-fire snowballs at bullies. This was a difficult cut for Martin, whose 6-year-old son watches “Elf” a lot and loves that moment. “But,” he says, “impossible to do on stage.”

The dwarf fight

In the movie, Buddy enrages a short-statured, hotheaded author by mistaking him for an elf, and a brawl ensues. They tried the scene in early versions of the musical, Martin says, but “it sort of didn’t work when you’re seeing it in reality.” It may turn up, he says, in an animated version of the musical he and Meehan are writing for TV.

The Central Park Rangers

In the movie, a menacing squad of enforcers chases Santa’s sleigh through Central Park as Buddy tries to repair its sputtering engine. The long sequence made heavy use of CGI, Martin says, and “you don’t have CGI on stage. All you have is paint and wood and some projections, and suspension of disbelief.” So while there is a flying sleigh, it’s part of an altered plot. “We have to create enough story to keep the audience involved,” he says, “and not miss the chase.”

But “Elf” diehards can take comfort in knowing the stage Buddy does curse himself as a “cottonheaded ninnymuggins” and does answer the phone, “Buddy the elf, what’s your favorite color?”

“We didn’t have that in the early draft of the musical,” Martin says, “and I remember Casey [Nicholaw, the Broadway director] saying, ‘You know, everybody who talks to me about this film quotes this line. We have to put it in.’ ”

Email: djevens@suntimes.com



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