BWW Review: THE HAPPY ELF at Theatre In The Park At Johnson County Arts And Heritage Center
The Happy Elf
Harry Connick, Jr's The Happy Elf is now playing at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center. Theater in the Park, in its new indoor winter venue, takes on Connick's work with sparkling enthusiasm. Connick's familiar baritone voice narrates a joyful story with a deeper meaning, in keeping with the spirit of the season.
Eubie, the "Happy Elf", is dreaming of riding with Santa in his sleigh on Christmas Eve. However, Norbert, Eubie's elfin boss, assigns him to checking the "naughty and nice list", in order to divert Santa's attention away from him. Eubie mysteriously discovers that every child of Bluesville appears on the naughty list leading him to on a journey to bring them a bit of Christmas cheer.
Eubie finds Bluesville a dark and dreary town where the townspeople feel the rays of the sun only a brief time each day. The primary place of employment for everyone is the What Factory, where question marks are made and there seems little to smile about. Eubie attempts to lighten everyone's spirits, but his joyful mood is unfamiliar to them and they resist. Eubie talks to the town's mayor and his family and even gives his magical elf hat to mayor's daughter Molly. Unfortunately for Eubie, losing the hat causes him to lose his mojo and his discouragement leads his elf friends Gilda and Hamm to help him find the good inside himself again and head back for another attempt to cheer Bluesville. With renewed inspiration Eubie does the same for the people of the town and they begin to see the good in each other. The What Factory machine transform into making joyful exclamation points, but are they in time to save Christmas? It's Christmas Eve and Santa is on his way, but are they too late?
In Director Guy Gardner's production, the happy elf "Eubie" is joyfully played by Colin Rohach. Rohach brings energetic charm to the role and he beguiles the audience with his honest approach, authentic singing style, and never ending smiles complete with a twinkle in his eye and dimples for miles. He is helped along on his journey by the ever-bubbly Gilda (a sparkling Emily Vargo) and best buddy Hamm (and aptly comedic sidekick John Alden). Countered by his nemesis Norbert (well played by the triple threat Fritz Sullivan) he is hit hard at every turn. Sullivan plays the villain with the smooth production like that of Neil Patrick Harris hosting the Academy Awards as he sings and tap dances while maintaining his fiendish swagger. As Norbert's sidekick is a "Mini-Me" version of Little Norbert (played by scene steeling Dominic Adams) who trots after Norbert, but is still found joining in the fun of the other elves.
On the opposite side of the stage is Bluesville where Eubie sets out to win Molly (Bridget Walsh channeling a young Sandra Bullock) over to the cheerful Christmas side. Walsh is believable as the bad girl with a dour attitude and hint of stubborn rebel, yet her lyrical singing voice betrays the softer nature of her heart. Caden Moffitt plays Curtis, Molly's "handler" with brotherly affirmation that sways with her moods. Her parents the Mayor and his wife Gurt are jazz in a minor key (as played by Clay Cartwright and Alyson Golladay) that both sing with feeling and warm musicality. However, Golladay brings range to Gurt with a comedic number relating that life in Bluesville can be somewhat like living in a "poop hole"!
Rounding out the ensemble were Sophia Adams, Amber Bracken, Jonah Cartwright, Angela Engel, Annalise Bray, Veronica Wilson, and Brooklyn Werth. This ensemble went from jubilant elves to dreary Bluesvilleans while singing and dancing all the way. This production is filled with many younger performers who directors Gardner and James Levy (music director) brought out the best in. In shows with young performers there are often moments where lack of life experience shows weakness, surprisingly, that doesn't happens with Elf. On opening night, this group performed like seasoned professionals with fun subtle jokes that resonated with the influence of good timing and wistful expression. Yes, some of Connick's jokes are juvenile, but all for the better since even very young audience members are "in on it". And, last but not least, there were multiple sightings of Santa and Mrs. Claus, who danced and sang very well (with a little help from Mike Brown and Carrigan Rohach, wink)!
So, the "Happy Elf" makes for fun holiday entertainment and memories (think Whoville meets the island of misfit toys) so enjoy the ride, bring the kids, and who knows, maybe if you're really good, and you look for the good in others, you'll make it onto Santa's sleigh, too.
You can see The Happy Elf Dec 8-24, 2017 on the main stage at 8788 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park, KS by purchasing your tickets at theatreinthepark.org
Photos courtesy of TTIP