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Musical Theatre West’s Elf: The Musical

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Musical Theatre West’s Elf: The Musical

From left: Matt Owen (Buddy) and Bryan Dobson (Santa) in Musical Theatre West’s Elf: The Musical

From left: Matt Owen (Buddy) and Bryan Dobson (Santa) in Musical Theatre West’s Elf: The Musical

Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography

From left: Matt Owen (Buddy) and Bryan Dobson (Santa) in Musical Theatre West’s Elf: The Musical

Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography

Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography

From left: Matt Owen (Buddy) and Bryan Dobson (Santa) in Musical Theatre West’s Elf: The Musical

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If “Elf” the movie is required holiday viewing in your household, then you’ll really appreciate Musical Theatre West’s exuberant extravaganza, Elf: The Musical. Based closely on the film, this family-centered version will entrance adults and children alike, with the added bonus that Matt Owen makes a superb syrup-and-spaghetti loving Buddy (a human who thinks he’s an elf), and Bryan Dobson is an excellently dry Santa.

Adapted for the stage by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, Elf: The Musical tracks Buddy’s journey from the North Pole to find his long-lost father Walter Hobbs (Mark Edgar Stephens) in New York City just as Christmas approaches.

As in the film, Hobbs has earned a place on Santa’s “naughty” list, treating his wife Emily (Kim Huber) and young son Michael (Travis Burnett) as afterthoughts while publishing children’s books for Grinch-like owner Mr. Greenway (Kevin Bailey).

While attempting to ingratiate himself to his father, Buddy meets love-interest Jovie (Ashley Moniz) decorating Macy’s for Santa’s immanent arrival. As in the film, he teaches her that singing is simple, and she should do it more often, which she does, lamenting soulfully in “Never Fall in Love with an Elf.”

All the song arrangements are winning, with lyrics well-integrated into the story, such as “World’s Greatest Dad,” in which Buddy idealizes his father, and “In the Way,” summarizing Hobbs’s view of Buddy (and Emily and Michael).

Choreography by director Peggy Hickey is spectacular, with a variety of dance styles, all carried off enthusiastically by the entire cast, including the 16-member ensemble playing North Pole elves and New Yorkers.

Many of the lines and deliveries remain faithful to the film, with the main differences involving missing characters, such as author Miles Finch (the “angry elf”) and Buddy’s adoptive elf-dad, whose role here is merged with Santa’s.

With fewer characters, however, the story is more concentrated on the Hobbs family, who become more of a unit as the play progresses, adding depth to the original story. Emily and Michael’s mother-son relationship is also highlighted as the two perform warm, well-executed duets.

Some of the other characters actually add more to this version than the film, such as the department-store manager (Richard Bulda) and Hobbs’s secretary Deb (Cynthia Ferrer), both of whom carry their quirky roles with flair.

And though some scenes from the film are dropped, one priceless new scene takes place in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve, where department-store Santas in stuffed red suits slump over tables drinking beer, exhausted and dispirited, complaining about kids texting while sitting on their laps and singing and dancing to “Nobody Cares About Santa”– a hilarious spectacle.

Sets change smoothly from the frosty North Pole to the city’s busy streets, where Buddy gets entangled with busy, dancing New Yorkers as he emerges from the Lincoln Tunnel. Hobbs’s office and the family apartment are also evoked believably, as are skating at Rockefeller Center and Central Park, where Santa’s sleigh stalls because of a lack of Christmas spirit.

Above all, Owens as Buddy is phenomenal, embodying his 30-year-old character’s innocent joy with exuberant physical humor. And the rest– costumes, orchestra, singing talent and sheer energy– make the whole production holiday-magical. As Buddy explains, Christmas is less about Santa and all about belief.

Musical Theatre West’s Elf: The Musical continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., through Dec. 9, with performances this Friday at 7pm, Saturday at 2pm and 7pm and Sunday at 1pm and 6pm. Tickets start at $20. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 856-1999 x4 or visit musical.org.

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Musical Theatre West’s Elf: The Musical