Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Elf The Musical
This story yearns to sing. Who can think of a TV Christmas special without a song or two popping into your head? With music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, the score puts a humorous spin on Christmas. While the songs will leave many with a holiday hum in their heart, this reviewer has always thought it odd that two fantastic numbers from the original Broadway production have since been changed out. The original opener, called "Christmastown," is replaced here by the second-rate "Happy All The Time." And the first act finale, a reprise of "World's Greatest Dad," is a replacement for a reprise of the stronger "I'll Believe in You" (a heartfelt song of longing and faith). The book (by Broadway stalwarts Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin) walks a fine line in staying true to the original screenplay by David Berenbaum while adapting to the needs of the stage. The story suffers when major characters such as Walter and Jovie (sung amazingly by Tieisha Thomas) feel neglected, while minor characters are given more stage time.
Sam Scalamoni's direction is jolly and jingly enough but lacks some sparkle and twinkle. Choreography provided by Connor Gallagher feels adequate but uninspired. It is difficult to appreciate a tap-dance number when it is glaringly obvious that no one on stage is wearing tap shoes and they are piping in canned tap sounds. Christine Peter's pop-up book-style scenic design and Gregg Barnes' colorful and cheery costumes are true highlights that help to keep the production from feeling like summer stock. There are some moments of true pleasure; the second act "Nobody Cares About Santa" is a standout. And special mention must be given to the orchestra under the direction of Michael Gildin. They bring Broadway-quality magic to the DPAC pit.
In this non-Equity cast, Cody Garcia looms large in his physical stature as Buddy the elf, but he doesn't capture the full mania and child-like wonder we expect from Buddy. Christopher Robert Smith does what he can with his character of Walter Hobbs, but the musical gives more character development to his wife Emily (a wonderful Caitlin Lester-Sams) and their younger son Michael (a saccharine Jaxon James), who sing the lovely duet "I'll Believe in You." Tieisha Thomas's Jovie is lackluster until she finally gets to sing, waking up the character with her high belt in "A Christmas Song" and later "Never Fall in Love (with an Elf)."
Elf, like so many stage adaptations of movies, is enjoyable enough, but it doesn't equal the magic of the original.
Elf, presented by WRAL Greatest Hits of Broadway, runs through December 4, 2022, at Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC. For tickets and information, please visit www.dpacnc.com, call 919-680-2787, or visit the Ticket Center at DPAC in person. For more information on the tour, visit elfthemusicaltour.com.
Music: Matthew Sklar