In the popular 2003 movie on which this musical is based, Will Ferrell set aside his usual pompous-idiot shtick to play Buddy, a guileless denizen of the North Pole who travels to New York City to meet his real family after discovering that he's not actually an elf. Naturally, everybody learns a lesson on the true meaning of Christmas. In contrast to the soulful, childlike quality supplied by Ferrell, Will Blum gives Buddy the sort of cloying jollity often seen on kids' TV shows. Sam Scalamoni's staging likewise employs artificial sweeteners as a substitute for true feeling whenever possible, from the supporting cast's energetic overplaying to Matthew Sklar's relentlessly peppy score. You may as well take a bath in high-fructose corn syrup. —Zac Thompson $18-$90
This is a polemical play, such as we're not used to in Chicago. Or in the United States, for that matter. As he closes in on martyrdom, the hardheaded apostle Paul has a series of debates with various allies and enemies, including his former wife, his faithful but complaining servant, a Christian disciple, a conniving Pharisee, the Roman procurator, and the spirits of Emperor Nero and Jesus. The upshot of all that talk? A picture of Paul as a spiritual visionary who outgrew what Israeli playwright Motti Lerner depicts as Jesus's crabbed Judeo-centric version of salvation, opting instead for universal love. In effect, Lerner takes the man who did so much to make anti-Semitic, misogynist medieval Christianity possible and rebrands him as a new Christ. One casualty of the process is Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah, an interesting contemporary of Paul's, unjustly demonized here. Another is you, the audience member: Jimmy McDermott's earnest, flat-footed world-premiere production fails to get at the legitimate comedy in Lerner's script while making a farce of its unconvincing dialectics. The result is a cardboard period drama, desperate but unable to provoke. —Tony Adler $35http://silkroadrising.org.