Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The musical is based on the 2003 film of the same name. It played briefly on Broadway in 2010, and again in 2012, and tells the story of Buddy, an orphan who was accidentally taken to the North Pole as a baby by Santa (after crawling into his bag) and subsequently raised as an elf. Buddy is now an adult (an oversized one in the elf world) and learns the secret of his true identity. He goes to New York City to meet his biological father, who never knew of his existence. When Buddy finds he is ill-prepared to adapt to the non-elf world, various antics, problems, and romantic entanglements ensue.
The book is by Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Thomas Meehan (Annie, Young Frankenstein), adapted from the film screenplay by David Berenbaum. The musical basically follows the plot of the movie, though Santa narrates in this version as opposed to Papa Elf (who isn't a character here). The story drags a few times in act one, and some plot points feel very rushed, especially the burgeoning romance between Buddy and Jovie, a young woman Buddy meets at Macy's. The second act is considerably stronger in dialogue, story development, and songs. There are a number of effective one-liners and sight gags, though the show could use even more humor sprinkled throughout.
The score is by Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics), who also supplied the songs for the musicals The Wedding Singer and The Prom. Like those shows, Elf boasts a number of high-quality and tuneful songs. In act one, the opening "Happy All The Time," a peppy tune about ever-positive Buddy and the elves at the North Pole, and "A Christmas Song" are standouts. The post-intermission numbers, including "Nobody Cares About Santa," the eager "There Is a Santa Claus," and the extremely catchy "The Story of Buddy the Elf" are especially praiseworthy.
Director/choreographer Chris Beiser provides an apt tone, several moments of inspired blocking, and a variety of well-suited dances. His dances that represent ice skating at Rockefeller Center are accurate and creative. The episodic nature of the story requires many scene transitions, and Mr. Beiser generally handles them effectively, despite the manual set changes employed at La Comedia.
David Thomas is excellent as Buddy, earnestly capturing the character's uber-optimistic exuberance and fish-out-of-water naivete. He sings wonderfully as well, and skillfully executes the physical comedy needed for the show. As Jovie, Jessie del Rio is a strong vocalist, impressing with her performance of "Never Fall In Love (with an Elf)." She clearly conveys the hardened exterior of a lonely New York transplant, but the role as written doesn't provide much arc. Mark Reuter is an effective Santa, and La Comedia favorite Chris Kramer is appropriately rigid and hardened as Walter, Buddy's career-focused father.
Vicki Oceguera (Emily) and Ben Locke (Michael) impress with their two duets as Buddy's stepmother and half-brother. Desmond Thomas gets lots of laughs as the put-upon store manager at Macy's, and Carrie SaLoutos is sassy as secretary Deb. The ensemble does a good job playing a variety of characters ranging from elves to office workers.
The set by Ray Zupp is a nice balance of whimsical cartoonish designs and minimalist realism, and the lighting by Geoffrey D. Fishburn features some interesting effects, including bursts of light to represent Santa's sleigh passing by. The costumes by A.T. Jones are a bit of a mixed bag, with several very attractive and detailed outfits, but also a few boring designs and odd mixes of colors.
This is the first time La Comedia has presented Elf the Musical, which will surely join a rotation of other holiday offerings they present, such as White Christmas and A Christmas Story. The show is a bit on the long side, and there is specific talk of Santa's authenticity, so audiences should keep that in mind when bringing small children. A fine cast helps make this production one to get you into the Christmas spirit.
Elf runs through December 31, 2019, at La Comedia Dinner Theater, 765 W Central Ave, Springboro OH. For tickets and information, call 937-746-4554 or visit lacomedia.com.