I don't know quite how he does it.
But in the Broadway touring musical “Elf,” which opened Tuesday night at the Orpheum Theater, Will Blum plays Buddy the Elf with such guileless glee and innocence, he wins over the audience from the get-go and keeps them chuckling. Blum almost single-handedly saves this show.
Almost. He gets some help from Ken Clement as Santa, who serves as narrator at the beginning of each act, getting people to laugh at some ho-ho-hum punchlines. Natch, a custom-written line about how he wanted to watch the Nebraska-Michigan game on TV was a hit.
And Noah Marlowe, playing Buddy's 12-year-old half-brother, has got all kinds of singing and dancing talent and a just-right innocence that makes you pull for him as well.
But the truth is, this is not one of the more distinguished scripts Omaha audiences have seen come through town over the past decade or so. Laugh lines were hit and miss, and a couple were of questionable taste for a family show.
Nor is the brassy score or the song lyrics, particularly the early numbers in Act One, likely to stick in your head and send you home humming. (It does pick up some in Act Two.) Even the choreography — not the dancing, the choreography — felt less than inspired at times. And Act One ends not with a bump, but a thump.
“Elf,” based on the 2003 broad comedic film that starred Will Ferrell, is the story of Buddy. As a toddler at an orphanage, Buddy crawled into Santa's sack and ended up at the North Pole. Raised by elves, Buddy towers above them all at 6 feet tall. At age 28 he finally overhears the shocking truth.
Buddy, a cheerful screw-up, is not an elf.
So Santa sends him to New York City to meet his human father, Walter, whose college sweetheart never told him Buddy existed. Then she tragically died.
Walter (Larry Cahn), a workaholic children's book publisher, is under pressure at work. His wife (Julia Louise Hosack) and son (Marlowe) are also pushing for more of his time. Having a strange guy in an elf suit show up at his office claiming to be his son does not go over well.
Buddy's misadventures include holiday decorating at Macy's (Omaha native Kevyn Morrow has some nice moments as the Macy's manager), falling in love with a co-worker there (Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Jovie) and messing up Walter's work situation so badly he's told to just go away.
But when Santa's sleigh is grounded in Central Park by nonbelieving New Yorkers, Buddy gets his chance to shine.
If you're taking little ones, they'll probably have a good time seeing Santa and Buddy, lots of colorfully painted backdrops and a snowy Christmas Eve.
If you're not, it's a sentimental enough tale that you may react like Tuesday's crowd of about 1,800, which was slow to applaud when a couple of songs ended but generously struggled to its feet for the curtain call, as Omaha audiences do at the end of just about every musical.
The cast does its best with so-so material. And Blum got a particularly warm round of applause.
He deserved it.