Review: ELF - THE MUSICAL at Toby's Dinner Theater

Enjoy YourELF At Toby’s In Columbia

By: Jul. 06, 2021

Review: ELF - THE MUSICAL at Toby's Dinner Theater Christmas in July? Yes, please! Toby's gives the gift of live theatre, and their production of ELF, (originally slated for Holiday 2020), right now, because we need a little Christmas, right this very minute.

Gosh, it's been a minute, hasn't it? I am able to happily report that live theater is coming back. It's not thundering in, it's tiptoeing, but with gusto. Many people are ready to carefully expand from Pods to go places and interact with strangers, including me. Even so, I'm somewhat anxious. This is my first foray into public indoor dining in a year and a half.

The premise: Buddy, an oversized elf, leaves the North Pole on a quest. Hilarity ensues. The 2003 movie Elf, starring Will Ferrell, gives warm fuzzies to a great many. Others won't watch a Will Ferrell movie on a bet. Toby's production of ELF doesn't have Will Ferrell in it. Just FYI.

Attending the musical ELF in July, (or August) in the air-conditioned comfort of Toby's, which is featuring reduced capacity pod seating until further notice, is a sweet novelty, and a community-supportive way to emerge from seventeen months of dormancy. Escape the heat, wear holiday finery and acknowledge other brave souls eager to socialize without super-spreading. Tables are spaced apart from one another, allowing literal breathing room. There's holiday music playing in the restrooms. Guests are respectful of personal space. You're in for holiday sweetness with heart and soul and singing and dancing and sparkle and jolly and a side of cheese. It's delicious food for the soul. As for the body, the buffet is fresh and appealing, though there's no salad or dessert bars- those arrive plated to your table nowadays.

ELF-THE MUSICAL, book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, Music by Matthew Sklar, Lyrics by Chad Beguelin, based on the Screenplay by David Berenbaum, isn't quite the comedy powerhouse one might expect, given the past writing credits of Meehan and Martin. Some of the musical numbers aren't essential to the show's integrity, though they're all quality songs, and I quite admired the lyrics of "Happy All The Time." These, however, are BOOK PROBLEMS, and I'm notorious for picking on scripts: I'm the petulant guy who thinks PHANTOM glorifies a spineless ninny, disapproves of how little of the book made it into WICKED, was annoyed by whining in A CHORUS LINE and flat out hates CHICAGO.

ELF-THE MUSICAL is full of rollicking dance numbers, packed to bursting with the imaginative choreogrophical flourishes of Director/Choreographer Mark Minnick. Particularly super-charged are "Sparklejollytwinklejingley" and "Nobody Cares About Santa," the latter so infectious that a kid seated nearby jumps up and dances along beside the table. Ross Scott Rawlings, Music Director, gives thorough attention to the details of each vocal number, notably "I'll Believe In You," a duet in which Janine Sunday and Luka Van Herksen as Emily and Michael Hobbs, respectively, harmonize beautifully. The clear sweetness of Van Herksen's voice is a treat.

Jeffrey Shankle in the title role is a dynamo. He has the requisite enthusiasm and slapstick energy for elf-hood, and creates some superior pantomime bits. His voice is more than up to carrying 10 out of 16 musical numbers. DeCarlo Raspberry brings excellent physicality to both of his supporting roles, and is vocally delightful in each. MaryKate Brouillet is perfectly prickly and vocally vivacious as Jovie, and Kalen Robinson is expressively hilarious as Deb. Crystal Freeman's power-packed pipes modulate to blend with the Ensemble, and her comedic delivery is exquisite. David Bosley-Reynolds makes an excellent Walter Hobbs: irritable, impatient, but basically likeable. His smooth, solid voice is a perk in any performance.

Costuming is big silly fun and looks like a handful of Starburst Fruit Chews, except for the New Yorkers. They look.... New York-ish. David A. Hopkins renders his usual effective scenery and lighting. There's fog, haze, strobes, and a couple of other surprise effects but unless you're seven, you may be underwhelmed. They're cute, though. John Pantazis, Sound Designer, delivers special sound moments that deserve recognition, and clear dialogue throughout. The running crew is silent, invisible and swift like Ninjas. Hat tip for that.

ELF-THE MUSICAL plays at Toby's through August 22, 2021. The show runs about one and a half hours, including a 20 minute intermission.

My apologies for the unrelated earworm.

The next production, GODSPELL, is slated to run August 27 through October 31, 2021, after which is Irving Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS from November 5- January 9, 2022. SPAMALOT opens January 14th of 2022.

Toby's Dinner Theatre is in Columbia, Maryland, easily accessed from Route 29 Southbound, with plenty of free parking all around the building.

Photo: Jeffrey Shankle as Buddy with the cast of ELF

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia

5900 Symphony Woods Road

Columbia, MD 21044

For additional information including pricing, buffet menu and directions, visit

For tickets and showtimes, phone the box office at 410-730-8311, 301-596-6161 or 1-800-88-TOBYS


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