BWW Reviews: Adorable Joy at 5th Avenue's ELF Abounds
I'll admit I was one of the first to roll their eyes in disdain when I heard they made a musical of the Will Ferrell movie "Elf", back in 2010. "Oh Good," I thought, "another overly sweet yet bland movie adaptation designed to get families in the theater and sell merchandise (in this case, elf hats)." And so even more eye rolling occurred when the 5th Avenue Theatre announced they would be putting up a production of it this year. And while the show may be most of those things I mentioned (especially the elf hats) what it isn't is bland. More importantly what the production at the 5th Avenue manages is a super engaging and absolutely adorable evening of elfish fun.
Based on the film of the same name, we meet Buddy the Elf (Matt Owen) who just seems to not fit in at the North Pole with the other Christmas elves … literally. You see, unbeknownst to Buddy, he's not an elf but a human that crawled into Santa's sleigh 30 years ago while Santa was delivering to an orphanage. And so the elves raised him as one of their own. But now that this overly cheery elf is a 6'1" adult and has found out about his true parentage, he sets off for New York to find his real Dad, Walter Hobbs (Allen Fitzpatrick), an all business children's book publisher who has forgotten the meaning of Christmas, a problem that Buddy is all to eager to help with. But when his Dad throws him out of his offices, Buddy ends up at Macy's in the North Pole display and meets Jovie (Kendra Kassebaum), a pretty yet cynical and jaded New Yorker. And wouldn't you know it, the two hit it off. Meanwhile Walter is having problems of his own with needing to come up with a best seller by Christmas or be fired, not to mention reconnecting with his family.
OK, so it's pretty predictable even if you haven't seen the movie. And the show is by no means genius and on it's way to curing cancer. But what it has going for it is plentiful. First off we have a crisp book from writers Bob Martin (Tony winner for "The Drowsy Chaperone") and Thomas Meehan (Tony winner for "Annie", "The Producers" and "Hairspray") with enough laughs for both the kids and the adults in the audience and catchy, plot advancing tunes from Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (writers of "The Wedding Singer" musical). And Secondly we have an amazingly well structured and executed show from the 5th Avenue and director Eric Ankrim with a killer cast who looks as if they're having way too much fun. Ankrim's pace on the show is perfect and keeps the characters honest and grounded even when faced with the surreal situations that surround them.
Fitzpatrick blends the perfect amount of gruff business exterior with frustrated desperation that even the so-called bad guy of the piece comes across as sympathetic. Kim Huber and Noah Barr equally shine as Walter's neglected family and play off each other perfectly in their delightful numbers. Kassebaum is a quirky and fabulous joy as Buddy's would be girlfriend and takes her lamenting ode to bad boyfriends to a whole new level of snaky enjoyment. Sean G. Griffin is the Santa we all wish would visit us on Christmas with his jovial attitude and quick-witted quips. Cynthia Jones may not have had too much to do in the show but what she has is pure gold. Jessica Skerritt is an absolute delight as Walter's giddy secretary. Nick DeSantis pulls off his usual comedic brilliance as the blustering publishing company owner and if there's anything better than watching him bust out into a gleeful dance of joy then I don't know what it is. And the rest of the outstanding 5th Avenue ensemble bring enough joy to the show that they could have been singing about insurance and it would have been fun.
But the show, as the name would suggest, belongs to Owen as Buddy. His infectious joyfulness about … well … everything made the character and never waivered. He managed to make him true to his intention but never annoying or one-note. And ultimately he was the character we all wanted to see succeed. And unlike the Ferrell performance, he made him come across not as dumb but as naïve and without a care.
With some kick ass choreography from Denis Jones that totally harkens back to good old-fashioned Broadway dance numbers (ya gotta love a production number filled with Santas with attitude) and a swingin' orchestra under the music direction of Andy Grobengieser and the show is a complete winner. To steal an epithet from the show, it's a sparkle jolly twinkle jingly good time and the perfect show to take the family to whether your family is 8 or 80.
"Elf" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through December 31st. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.
Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka