Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot follows the story of Buddy the Elf, an orphan baby who crawled into Santa's sack of toys one Christmas many years ago and ended up being raised as an elf at the North Pole. Now grown up, and not a very good toymaker, when Buddy learns that he is human and that his father is still alive (and on the "naughty" list), he sets off to New York City to find his family. The journey is full of adventure, discovery, new friends, life lessons, and a whole lot of love.
The stage adaptation features a charming and witty book by Tony winners Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin and a serviceable score with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. From what I've learned from an avid fan of the film, the adaptation keeps most of the film plot while eliminating some supporting characters and adds in a few fun contemporary references.
Director D. Scott Withers has assembled a wonderful cast who all sing incredibly well and also know how to ensure the warmth of the story isn't lost under the weight of the show's more wacky and comical moments. Toby Yatso makes for a loveable and entirely appealing Buddy. The sense of childlike innocence and excitability Yatso brings to the role, combined with his tall, lanky frame and winning personality, make for a lovable and silly man-child who is both entirely believable as this fish out of water as well as completely endearing. Yatso makes you care for Buddy and his plight and cheer for him to succeed. As Walter, Buddy's father, Chris Eriksen creates a realistic portrayal of the hardworking man who mistakenly puts work over his family. Jenny Hintze evokes a perfect sense of pessimism as Jovie, the young, edgy woman Buddy meets on his journey, who has a much more hardened view of the world than Buddy does.
Debby Rosenthal delivers a winning performance as Emily, Walter's wife and Buddy's supportive step-mother, while Kylan Chait is cute and charming as his young step-brother. Gene Ganssle adds warmth to the role of Santa, while Anne Lise Koyabe is a knock-out as Walter's wise-cracking assistant Deb, and Matravius Avent, Lucas Coatney, and Eddie Maldonado all shine in several large ensemble roles.
Withers appeared as Buddy's father in two recent national tours of the show, so he has plenty of experience with the musical's blend of comedy and pathos, and his direction infuses this production with humor, realism, charm, and fast-paced action. Sam Hays' choreography features high-spirited energy, infectious humor, and ever-changing steps and styles. The
creative elements are gorgeous. Robert Kovach's smart, functional and whimsical set design uses sliding panels in excellent ways to quickly whisk us from one location to another, and he incorporates pops of color and imagination in the various set pieces, while the costumes by Cari Smith are a visual feast that combine cute designs with pieces that are quirky and colorful. Daniel Davisson's exceptional lighting design is full of deep blues and purples that evoke magical North Pole scenes as well as those set in the harsher New York City locales.
Elf The Musical incorporates humorous and upbeat musical numbers and some small changes to give fans of the movie a fun new way to experience the story. With a superb performance by Toby Yatso as Buddy and exceptional direction and creative aspects, Phoenix Theatre's production is a colorful, whimsical, fun, family-friendly holiday treat full of optimism and a beautiful message about the joy of innocence and the importance of family.
Elf The Musical, through December 30, 2018, at Phoenix Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling 602-254-2151
Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin
Cast (in alphabetical order:
*Member, Actors' Equity Association
*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.