Elf the Musical
Janet Smith | 18 Nov 2023 10:35am
Photo: John Reilly
The film ‘Elf’ is many people’s favourite movie, with Will Ferrell as Buddy exuding the maximum in elf-ness. But whenever there is a successful film such as ‘Elf’, ‘School of Rock’, ‘Legally Blond’ or ‘Shrek’, before too long, someone, somewhere, will make a musical of it. And they did, with ‘Elf’ appearing on Broadway in 2010 with music by Matthew Sklay and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. And here I am, about to watch County Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society perform it.
The Victorian New Theatre Royal, Lincoln is packed as tightly as a Christmas pudding, and the safety curtains open to reveal a large red velvet chair with gold-coloured embellishments. This of course is Father Christmas’ chair, and very soon the old man himself appears, with a neat reminder to turn off his cell phone. He is the intermittent narrator of the story, helped by his wife. Singing elves soon appear, with a comical effect of appearing shorter by walking on their knees, with two candy striped false legs dangling in front.
Our story begins with Buddy, played by Christian Norton, overhearing that he’s not actually an elf, but a human. Santa tells him that he crept into his sack of presents as an orphan baby who, helped by the elves, they brought up. Being much taller, it’s something he suspected, along with not being so adept at toymaking. His real father, Walter Hobbs is an important man in publishing, who Buddy immediately sets out to find in New York.
Buddy’s journey from Christmas Town in the North Pole to the Big Apple is very cleverly done with a large screen at the back of the stage moving along, showing various landmarks whilst Buddy stands on his stationary iceberg. Christian Norton makes a wonderful elf, bringing out his core values of naivety, honesty, innocence – and pure fun. And he’s ‘Happy All the Time’, even his gums. He has a fine tenor voice which can climb to a mountainous falsetto.
The scene in Macey’s store is great fun. Daryl Smith takes a good part as the store manager, and has a great voice. The fight resulting from Buddy accusing the toy shop Santa of being a fake, in which a handful of workers join in, is cleverly staged in slow motion, and most effective.
At Macey’s Buddy meets Jovie, who works as an elf in Santa’s grotto, and immediately falls in love with her. Played by Cally Stalland, she brings out Jovie’s tough cynicism about life. Jovie tells Buddy that she can’t sing, but is gradually persuaded by him to try. She has a belter of a voice. The scene where they ice skate at Rockefeller Centre is highly effective with skaters performing the actions of skating without skates, dry ice wafting ankle deep, and real skaters on roller skates weaving in and out.
Another person Buddy falls in love with instantly, is his father Walter Hobbs, played with businesslike grouchiness by Ian Norton. Buddy’s affection is not reciprocated. Neither does Walter afford time for wife Emily and son Michael; his enduring passion being first and foremost his work at Greenway Publishers. Emily Hobbs played by Emily Novelle, portrays loving mother and neglected wife well, with Ash Betts as son Michael taking a good part, with a sad above his years seriousness. All Michael really wants for Christmas is his Dad. ‘Dad, it’s well documented that children of workaholics are prone to self-esteem issues.’ But Buddy with his magic brand of sparklejollytwinklejingley (spellcheck has an apoplexy at this word!) is about to transform their lives.
Office scenes at Greenway are great fun. Office Receptionist Deb, played with kindly efficiency by Lisa Reilly shows Buddy how to use the office shredder, which is perhaps a mistake. The shreds resemble fake snow, and soon it is snowing in the office. Seriously for everyone, he later shreds the original and only copy of a book the firm were hoping to buy rights to, and which would make their fortune. He is shown the door.
There is a brief moment of hope when Buddy tells a story, echoing his own to Mr Greenway, who is played with artistic eccentricity by Martyn Housley-Smith. Mr Greenway likes it, wants to publish it, but insists the central character change from elf to horse!
Feeling that he is fit for nowhere, neither elf world nor human world, Buddy is not smiling for the first time; especially when Jovie tells him goodbye.
But when you’re down, the only way is up. And when Santa’s sleigh makes a crash landing in Central Park because there is insufficient Christmas spirit around to keep it flying, Buddy has influenced enough people to rally round and help lift off. When the gathering crowd sings A Christmas Song to raise Father Christmas’ sleigh from ground to sky it is genuinely affecting.
From twinkly top to sparkly toe, the show is as well polished as a shiny nose. The many youngsters in the show are super and act with real professionalism; likewise the ensemble.
I liked the deceptive simplicity of the staging, with big screen behind showing backdrops to scenes, and minimum symbolic furniture and props brought onstage by the cast. There was no fuss or bother with scene changes, the whole production working slickly, and without hiatus. Costume design by Hannah Simmons was extremely effective and choreography by Helen Symonds fun. Props Master Charlotte Caldwell had two hundred and fifty props under her wing, many house designed and crafted. Direction by David Taylor was highly effective, with the stage creatively and fully used, and characters developed. The orchestra led by musical director Kev Richardson was first rate, the music being in sympathy with the production. Loud enough to be enjoyed, but soft enough not to drown lyrics or dialogue. Sound and lights were effective. In a large-scale show like this, in addition to the forty actors are countless other creatives and helpers, essential in bringing the show to fruition.
‘Elf the Musical’ is a fun filled festive Christmas tonic, with performances continuing on Friday evening at 7pm, and on Saturday at 2pm and 7pm.