Saturday, November 18, 2017
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Musical tour takes 'Elf' off the shelf, into the Straz Center

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Christmas comes early when the musical Elf opens this week in Tampa. It's adapted from the popular 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell as Buddy, an orphan who grows up as one of Santa's elves at the North Pole before setting out to look for his father in New York City.

"There's a kind of self-awareness and modern sensibility to the film that I think people find appealing," said Bob Martin, who, with Thomas Meehan, wrote the musical's book. "It's not as saccharine as many Christmas shows. That's something that attracted me to the adaptation because we wanted to make a Christmas show that appealed to adults as well. There's a real sweetness to the character. But the comedy grows out of the context in which we see him, which is a very cynical, urban landscape where nobody believes in Christmas anymore and everyone thinks Buddy is crazy."

Martin was an interesting choice to work on Elf. Primarily a comedian and writer for Toronto's Second City and Canadian television (Slings & Arrows, the brilliant spoof of a nonprofit theater company), he played Man in Chair in Drowsy Chaperone and was co-creator of that loving, hilarious homage to musicals of the 1930s.

"I would say that holiday shows played absolutely no part in my theatrical life," Martin readily acknowledged in a phone interview from Toronto. "I saw the Radio City Christmas show and White Christmas. And The Nutcracker as a kid. Those were probably the only holiday shows I saw before Elf. I haven't seen every Christmas show that's come along. It's kind of freeing."

What Christmas shows has Martin enjoyed? "On television, The Office Christmas special — the British Office — is one of the best things I've ever seen," he said. "It's kind of squirmingly embarrassing and then you're really transported at the end. It's incredibly touching."

Another production of Elf is playing on Broadway, where it opens today. The score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer) is essentially the same, but with different directors (Casey Nicholaw in New York, Sam Scalamoni on the road) the approach to the material is different. Jordan Gelber plays Buddy in New York, while Matt Kopec plays him on tour.

"How the central character is portrayed dictates the tone of the show," Martin said. "The tour is light, family-friendly fare. It still has an edge to the humor, so I think adults will be entertained. Matt Kopec is really engaging and charming, like a children's literature character come to life onstage. We're trying something a little different with the Broadway version. Our Buddy, Jordan Gelber, is much more of a frat boy. The tour is extremely sweet. Broadway is a little more sly. I think the humor can work both ways."

Elf opens Tuesday and runs through Nov. 25 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. There's no performance on Thanksgiving, and a matinee is added Friday. $38.50-$75.50. There is a $20 discount for select tickets for shows on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday with a donation of a nonperishable food item to Metropolitan Ministries. (813) 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045; strazcenter.org.

Pops music director piles up positions

Now Jeff Tyzik has six pops music directorships. The latest orchestra to name Tyzik to that position was the Detroit Symphony this month. In June, he was named principal pops conductor of the Florida Orchestra, and in October he was announced as the Seattle Symphony's principal pops conductor. He was already pops conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic, Oregon Symphony and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Next weekend, Tyzik makes his first appearance of the season with the Florida Orchestra, leading three concerts of movie music, including selections from Casablanca, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Star Wars.

Opera Tampa festival schedule may be dicey

Opera Tampa announced its Florida Opera Festival this month, and there is much to like about the lineup, which features productions of Puccini's La Boheme and Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera in February and March. But the scheduling at the Straz Center, the company's home, could be a problem, with performances on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for the two operas plus the "POPera!" concert. Opening performances for the three are on Thursday nights.

The audience for Sunday matinees is well established for Opera Tampa, but Saturday matinees have not been tried by the company. And for opera singers, back-to-back performances are to be avoided. For example, St. Petersburg Opera performances are on Friday night, Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night.

Daniel Lipton, in his first season as Opera Tampa artistic director, may rethink the scheduling.

"I hope we can go with another form for following years," Lipton said in an interview this month when he announced casting for the festival. "For the soloists especially, they need more time to relax between performances. The voice is the most delicate of instruments."

'Art of Our Time' offers cutting-edge shows

New Stages: Narrative in Motion is a performance series at the Historic Asolo Theater, a 260-seat venue at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. Somewhat in line with the cutting-edge dance, music and theater at the annual Ringling International Arts Festival, the series is part of the museum's "Art of Our Time" season. The offerings:

Jan. 24-26: Word Becomes Flesh, hip-hop artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph's letters to an unborn son.

Feb. 7-9: Beyond Words, one-person show by mime Bill Bowers.

Feb. 21-23: Leo, acrobatics, dance and theater by Germany's Circle of Eleven.

March 7-9: Kate Weare Dance Company.

Tickets are $15-$25. (941) 360-7399; ringling.org.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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