BWW Review: ELF THE MUSICAL: Spiritual Revival
Elf The Musical
Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, Music by Matthew Sklar, Lyrics by Chad Beguelin, Based on the New Line Cinema film written by David Berrenbaum; Directed by Sam Scalamoni, Choreography Recreated by Nancy Renee Braun, Choreography by Connor Gallagher; Scenic Design, Christine Peters; Costume Design, Gregg Barnes; Lighting Design, Paul Miller; Sound Design, Shannon Slaton; Music Director, Nate Patten; Production Stage Manager, Andrew Bacigalupo
CAST: Erik Gratton, Ken Clement, Bernard Dotson, Cynthia Ferrer, Veronica J. Kuehn, Trey Middleton, Ruth Pferdehirt, Christopher Russo, Danny Rutigliano, Darren Biggart, Allyson Carr, Allyson Kaye Daniel, Paul Ianniello, Eric Anthony Johnson, Chandon Jones, Drew King, Andrew Kruep, Emily Larger, Eric Jon Mahlum, Frankie Paparone, Emily Jeanne Phillips, Shaun Repetto, Wyatt Rogers, Morgan Rose, Emily Grace Tucker, with George Wendt as Santa
Performances through December 10 at the Boch Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 800-982-ARTS (2787) or via Ticketmaster or www.Bochcenter.org
Judging from the sheer number of children in the audience and their rapt attention with very few inappropriate peeps, Elf The Musical is a fun family favorite for all ages. Based on the 2003 film which starred Will Ferrell, the show debuted on Broadway in 2010 with George Wendt of television's Cheers fame as Santa Claus. The touring production features Wendt donning the red suit again to serve as our narrator to tell the story of Buddy the Elf. Wendt is a folksy natural and there's just something so right about having him appear on the stage of the Wang Theatre in Boston, even if Norm's beer stein is replaced by a mug of hot chocolate.
Fans of the movie should be prepared for some alterations to suit the live genre, but the bones of the story remain intact and neophytes won't know the difference. Most importantly, there's a big, childlike guy by the name of Erik Gratton in the title role. His energy and sense of wonder light up the stage and extend all the way to the back of the house, capturing all those little ones in his magic beam of happiness. As he says in his program bio, "Seeing the world through Buddy's eyes every day is the happiest way to spend the holiday season."
Standing 6'3", dressed in a bright green and yellow elf suit, and capped with a shocking orange wig, Gratton appears larger than life, especially since he towers over all of the other elves. The premise of Elf is that Buddy's mother died, leaving him in an orphanage. As a tot, he crawled unseen into Santa's bag and ended up at the North Pole. The elves decided to raise him as their own and he was unaware that he was human, despite his unusual size and total lack of skill at toy-making. Once Buddy learns the truth, Santa sends him off to New York City to find his father and infuse the locals with some elfish spirit. Do I have to tell you that craziness ensues?
Buddy's arrival in Manhattan creates a cross-cultural clash as he is overwhelmed and the New Yorkers take him for a joke, or a Times Square costumed character. When he finds his dad Walter (Christopher Russo) in his publishing office at the Empire State Building, the place is a madhouse and Buddy's in the way. He ends up getting a job at Macy's as - can you guess? - an elf and meets Jovie (vivacious Boston Conservatory alum Veronica J. Kuehn), a cynical young woman who is neither in the Christmas spirit nor in the mood for Buddy's high spirits. The store manager (Bernard Dotson) thinks he's a spy from the big boss and succumbs to Buddy's recommendations ("Sparklejollytwinklejingley") for decorating the department.
Meanwhile, Walter is not alone as a non-believer, as his wife Emily (Cynthia Ferrer) and young son Michael (Trey Middleton) struggle to write a convincing letter to Santa. In fact, Buddy finds himself in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve with a bunch of "Fake" Santas as they lament "Nobody Cares About Santa." Their bluesy number is one of the highlights of the show, second only to the opening dance of Santa's elves (on their knees), but the ensemble dancers show off choreographer Connor Gallagher's routines (recreated by Nancy Renee Braun) effectively throughout.
Buddy is nothing if not persistent and resilient, thus eventually winning over Jovie, his father, stepmother, and new brother, so that they embrace the Christmas spirit and their belief in Santa Claus is renewed in time to power his reindeer-less sleigh (the animals have been retired due to complaints from PETA). Even Walter's humorless boss (Danny Rutigliano) and all of the harried office workers join in the singing and dancing to celebrate the holidays. With an upbeat score, cartoonish oversized sets, and vibrant, colorful costumes, all of the pieces fit together to create a joyful experience. Elf The Musical is for the big kid in all of us.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel (Erik Gratton as Buddy and the cast of Elf The Musical)