By Doug Iden
What happens when a human infant crawls into Santa’s bag, is transported to the North Pole and is then raised by elves? The answer is provided by Elf, the Musical based upon the movie Elf, starring Will Farrell and now playing at the Covedale Theater.
As an adult, Buddy (Christopher Wells) hears that he is actually an orphaned human and not an elf and is devastated. Santa (Dan Cohen) counsels Buddy to find his real father (Justin Glaser as Walter Hobbs) in New York City. Hobbs is not only on the “naughty list” because of disbelief in Santa but also does not know Buddy exists. So, naïve Buddy sets off on an odyssey to the Big City. Talk about an “elf out of water” story.
Because of the Elfladish premise in this fantasy-comedy, the character of Buddy must exude charm, charisma and elan to win over the audience. Director (and Executive Artistic Director) Tim Perrino scored a “10” by casting Wells as Buddy whose personality fills the theater. He also is a good singer and excellent dancer, displaying some good gymnastic techniques.
Buddy’s initial meeting with his father (who is a children’s book publisher) is disastrous. Not only does Walter not believe that Buddy is his son but also thinks the man is delusional. Buddy then ends up as an elf in Macy’s Christmas encounter with a fake Santa whom Buddy immediately challenges. He is appalled that the employees are not showing the proper Christmas Spirit which Buddy tries to encourage.
In Elphabetical order, the other major characters are Deb (Kelsey Chandler as a secretary in Walter’s office), Emily (Annie Schneider as Buddy’s step mother), Jovie (Kayla Stroud as the women with whom Buddy falls in love) and Michael (Hana Conte who is Buddy’s step brother).
The music by Matthew Sklar is serviceable with fairly clever lyrics by Chad Beguelin. The best songs, in my opionion, are “Nobody Cares About Santa”, sung by Buddy and some now unemployed fake Santas, and the ballad “Never Fall in Love With an Elf” belted by Stroud.
There are several production numbers well-choreographed by Cassidy Steele and well perfumed by the ensemble. A very effective scene shows a skating rink showing skaters festooned with Christmas lights while Buddy and Jovie sing “A Christmas Song”. Later accompanied by the ensemble. Other production numbers include ”Happy All the Time”, “Just Like Him” and “ Sparklejollytwinklejingley” (which probably won a Guinness award for longest song title).
For Buddy, this is a coming-of-age journey from childlike to adult. For the other characters, this is a trek from cynical, world weary adults to childhood memories and joy.
Technically, the show was well done, especially in this economically strapped environment. In the static set design by Brett Bowling, there is a cityscape which, depending upon the lighting, may appear as the North Pole or the lights in NYC high-rises. As usual, the design is augmented with numerous props including Santa’s chair and sleigh, work benches for the elves, fast food carts and office and home furniture. There is also a lot of Christmas decorations including a lit tree and lots of tinsel. An especially effective prop was the use of videos which started with snippets of classic Christmas movies, then showed Normal Rockwell magazine covers and often showed the locale of the show.
The costuming by Allison Jones includes elves suits, business attire, Santa costumes and homeless rags.
This show continues a trend of adapting movies into musical theater. Initially, the adaptations were based upon original movie musicals (like Victor/Victoria, Footloose, Xanadu, etc.) with songs added but, recently, they have adapted non-musical movies (like Mean Girls, Pretty Woman, etc.) with a whole score.
Overall, this is a warm family outing, in keeping with Buddy’s affirmation of the Christmas Spirit. So, jump in your elvan green tights, hire an Uber sleigh and skate down to the Covedale and enjoy Elf, the Musical running through December 26. The next Covedale production is Beehive, the 60’s Musical running from January 27, 2022 through February 20. For info and tickets, call (513) 241-6550 or click https://conta.cc/3piJSLS.
Doug Iden is an avid, lifelong theater fan with an extensive collection of original cast albums. Â He also teaches classes on musical theater at OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).