BWW Review: Theatre Under The Stars' ELF is a Feel-Good, Festive, Family Holiday Treat
I first saw ELF when TUTS produced it back in 2013, and last year I had the absolute joy of working on a production of it at Queensbury Theatre. Honestly, it was a challenge for me to put aside my past experience with the show in order to see it with fresh eyes, giving myself a fair chance to experience a different cast, choreo, and designs from a reviewer's perspective. Setting aside those personal experiences with ELF, I found that this production reminded me of the things I loved most about it in the first place--the humorous quips written into the dialogue, the undeniable holiday spirit, and the snappy songs that inevitably get stuck in my head.
You likely know the story of Buddy the Elf (played with unabashed innocence and enthusaism by Quinn VanAntwerp), the human raised by elves at the North Pole after he climbed into Santa's bag as a baby. After spending his entire life at the North Pole where syrup is a food group and toy-making is the only respectable career choice, Buddy journeys to New York City to reunite with his human workaholic father, Walter Hobbs (Michael Halling). What ensues is a fish-out-of-water scenario complete with holiday shenanigans, heartwarming moments, and humor. With a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, music by Matthew Sklar, and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, ELF is just the holiday treat for you and your family. It's one part holly jolly fanfare, one part comedy, and one part wholesome romance.
Complete with 26 children from the Humphrey School of Musical Theatre and an 10-person adult ensemble (Mackenzie Bell, Courtney Chilton, Jacob Major, Trey Harrington, Logan Keslar, Regina Morgan, Christopher Scurlock, Yasmyn Sumiyoshi, Christopher Tipps, and Kristin Warren), the cast is as large as the elves are insanely happy. Artistic Director Dan Knechtges navigated the magnitude of the show with ease as Director and Choreographer. I took extra notice to the elves' storybook-esque costumes by Colleen Grady, and the lighting by Yael Lubetzky. Both designers took the opportunity to fill Sarofim's stage with all the festive bells and whistles you could wish for. After all, it is a holiday show, so you might as well go all out, right? See: "Sparkejollytwinklejingley", Act One's flashy showcase of Christmas cheer.
Lots of familiar Houston faces dot this cast, which is always a good sign. Julia Krohn (Mrs. Hobbs) is a treat to listen to, most especially in "There Is a Santa Claus" which exhibits both her and Carlos Garza's (Michael Hobbs) wonderful vocals. Then there's LaBraska Washington, who was last seen at TUTS as the Mayor of Whoville in SEUSSICAL this past summer. I couldn't help but laugh at his exaggerated physical comedy and satire as the Macy's Manager. Simone Gundy adds another layer of humor as Mr. Hobbs' secretary Deb, and Kristin Warren similarly earns the audience's appreciation and applause, as per usual in her performances.
Raven Justine Troup was downright delightful as Jodie, the jaded and cynical love interest of Buddy, originally portrayed by Zooey Deschanel in the film. Not only did her vocal performance soar in "Never Fall in Love", but her physicality in the choreography of "Sparklejollytwinklejingley" had me rolling with laughter. She captures the essence of Jodie perfectly with a true-to-life balance of sarcasm and heart. She's got both sugar and spice. Seriously, keep your eye on Troup--in both this production and her career.
Brian Mathis plays Mr. Greenway, the token grumpy, anti-holiday cheer, profit-pushing CEO who fights for Hobbs to prioritize career over family. Mathis had me struggling to contain my (rather loud) laughter in "The Story of Buddy", when his comedic genius took center stage. If you know Brian, you know that wasn't a character up there at all, that was alllll him.
A true show-stopper of this production is the Act Two opener, "Nobody Cares About Santa". This bluesy, snappy number has always been one of my favorites. Told from the point of view of out-of-work Santas on Christmas Eve, the song laments the lack of appreciation for Santa in the most amusing, entertaining way as they gripe after hours in a Chinese restaurant. Trust me, it's a performance you never knew you needed.
All in all, a ticket to this show ensures an evening of laughter, talent, and a healthy dose of Christmas spirit. The joy of this production is that it really can be for anyone--child, adult, family, or friends. It's feel-good, it's festive, and it's full of holiday cheer. Catch it running through December 22nd at Theatre Under the Stars.
Photography Credit: Melissa Taylor
Visit tuts.com for tickets and more information. Tickets start at just $40, with no additional fees. Running Tuesday-Sunday through December 22nd at 800 Bagby Street in Houston.