BWW Reviews: A Sparklejollytwinklejingley ELF Plays at Hershey Theatre
Okay, ELF is a modern classic of a Christmas movie. It's no surprise that Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE and ANNIE respectively, took a crack at the book for a musical version, or that Matthew Sklar (SHREK and THE WEDDING SINGER) and Chad Beguelin (THE WEDDING SINGER, the book for Disney's Broadway ALADDIN) sat down for the music and lyrics. And what they came up with, which first hit Broadway in 2010, may just be better than the movie, because the movie wasn't a musical, and because therefore it had no song called "Sparklejollytwinklejingley." Nor did it have the less spectacular, but no less charming, "A Christmas Song" (not to be confused with "The Christmas Song," which is another thing entirely). It's at Hershey Theatre on its national tour, just in time for the season, and it's pretty sparklejollytwinklejingley itself.
You know the plot. Buddy the Elf isn't really an overgrown elf; he's a human, from New York, found as an infant in Santa's bag and raised by the elves. He's grown now, and returns to New York an overgrown, adult, child, looking for his father. His father has a job and a family, doesn't know that Buddy existed, and doesn't believe in Buddy's relationship to him any more than he or his slick, sophisticated friends believe in Santa. Now, in any Christmas show, non-believers in Santa will eventually believe, because Santa is like that, and because it's a law of Christmas. But while that in itself has no drama, there's still plenty of humor and adventure to be found, as Buddy discovers humans and adulthood, and as his family learns to adjust... and as a certain children's book publisher discovers the best possible Christmas story plot right under their noses.
ELF is slickly polished, from costumes to sets to dancers, and what it lacks in reindeer it makes up for in dance extravaganza, big songs, and things other than reindeer that fly. It has no more moral than the movie, though perhaps that's quite enough of one, and while it's purely Christmas razzle-dazzle, oh how it dazzles. It's big, it's bodacious, it's got just enough plot and humor to keep adults happy, and enough of everything, and then some, to keep children's attention the whole time. Although Hershey Theatre recommends it for those twelve and over, the nine-year-old assistant accompanying this writer had no difficulty following it or enjoying it thoroughly, and was able to find both fun and meaning in it, so it's not too much for kids to handle.
Buddy, normally played by Daniel Patrick Smith, was played by understudy David J. Wiens on opening night, with a good deal of grace and no signs of being the backup - he's funny, he's charming, and he makes an overgrown elf in an elf suit look like someone you wouldn't mind knowing. Jovie, played by Daryn Harrell, is cute, sweet, and not as hard-bitten as previously ill-used; she's wary and guarded, but still wears her heart on her sleeve. She and Buddy are a delightful pair, and the audience roots for them all the way through. Walter, his book-publisher father with bad Christmas attitude, is an appropriately grouchy D. Scott Withers, and his long-suffering wife, Emily, is given a charming turn by Allison Mickelson, previously seen in this area at Allenberry Playhouse. Keep your eye peeled for the store manager, played by Arthur L. Ross, who's fearful of the big guy from up north - the boss at headquarters, not Santa. He's got a nice turn in "Sparklejollytwinklejingley."
Jovie's best turn comes during her scene in front of Tavern on the Green, singing "Never Fall in Love." Buddy's "World's Greatest Dad" is his big solo. Emily's turn comes in two duets with her young son, "I'll Believe in You" and "There is a Santa Claus." But aside from the incredibly sparkly store song, the big, delightful extravaganzas are during "A Christmas Song," set in Rockefeller Plaza, and "The Story of Buddy the Elf," an old-fashioned everyone-up-on-the-furniture dance routine that just doesn't quit and only gets better as it rolls along.
And whether you personally believe in Santa or not before you walk in the door, the message here gets across without getting preachy, maudlin, or patronizing, which is an accomplishment of its own. Believing in good things doesn't have to make you a sap, as Buddy shows his family.
This is as much nonsensical fun as a Christmas musical gets. The only thing missing is popcorn, but you can always string that on the tree. At Hershey Theatre through December 14. For tickets, call 717-534-3405 or visit www.hersheytheatre.com.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus