By Barry Reszel
As has been noted by this reviewer before, reaction to the title Elf the Musical, puts every person squarely into one of three camps.
Those in camp one typically love all things Christmas and, for sure, all things Buddy. They aspire to maintain the elfin diet (“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup”); have the 2003 Will Ferrell movie permanently loaded on one or more devices, ready to watch at moment’s notice; often toss out Buddy quotes like, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear;” and already have tickets for this year’s run at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre (spoiler alert: they will not be disappointed).
Camp two is more eclectic (camp oners might say “more curmudgeonly”). They range from the holiday-tolerant to the seasonally joyful; know at least a verse, often two, of the standard carols; and don’t mind a holiday party or two as long as the egg nog is sufficiently rum-laced. These folks have likely caught the Elf movie once or twice and probably enjoyed it enough, even if Ferrell got on their nerves a bit. But no way does the film deserve the stature of White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life.
Camp three inhabitants have no clue what Elf, the movie or the musical, is all about. These folks live under a rock.
This reviewer, a proud member of camp two (#camptworocks), finds this season’s staging of Elf the Musical by Director/Choreographer Extraordinaire Amber Mak sure to unite all three camps in a common spirit of kindness and joy.
For those who need it, particularly the camp three residents, click here for the the story’s plot and show’s history.
Mak’s first-rate production oozing Yuletide joy is led by the gangly, enthusiastic Kyle Adams as Buddy the Elf. With an omnipresent smile and terrific vocals, Adams makes the savant-like character his own with an infusion of childlike earnest obliviousness that makes every adult patron look back wistfully on days gone by. His co-star, Samantha Pauly as camp three Macy’s seasonal employee Jovie, does melancholy really well. And despite her character’s initial reluctance to sing, thank God she does, because Pauly’s voice is one that belongs in those “choirs of angels” we’ll be treated to on every radio station for the next month. Her “Never Fall in Love” solo in act two is an absolute understated theatrical and vocal highlight.
Professional perfection is how to describe this cast’s principal grownups. Roger Mueller is calm and funny as narrator Santa. Michael Acardo is the perfect killjoy, workaholic dad, Walter Hobbs. Emily Agy on opening night knocked it out of the park as his secretary, Deb; George Keating is appropriately grumpy as boss, Chadwick; it ‘s a near reprise of his recent role in Drury Lane’s Rock of Ages.
Lara Filip as Buddy’s stepmom, Emily Hobbs, is simply terrific. In fact, her two duets with young Oliver Boomer (as her son Michael Hobbs), the first act’s “I’ll Believe in You” and the second’s “There is a Santa Claus,” are among this production’s finest vocal offerings.
Additional musical highlights, ably led by Musical Director Tom Vendafreddo, include cast numbers, “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” “Just Like Him” and “A Christmas Song.”
Also deserving mention is Jeff winner Jonathan Butler-Duplesssis. This young actor leaves his personal stamp on every role he takes on, and his depiction of the paranoid Macy’s store manager is a master class in comedic acting.
Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s enormous sets highlighted by fine projection work of Joseph A. Burke are a sight to behold. Their transformation into Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza (they ice skate, for goodness sake) are particularly memorable. As are Theresa Ham’s gloriously colorful costumes, highlighted by clever elves and the most gorgeous winter coat ever seen—Carolina blue with white polka dots, worn by Jovie in act two (side note to the artistic team: give Pauly the coat when the run ends). And whether it be Kmiec, talented Properties Designer Amanda Relaford or some combination group effort deserving credit for Santa’s sleigh, consider it given.
With a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, there’s something about live Elf that delivers more than expected. And in the über-capable hands of Artistic Director Jim Corti and his Paramount team, it’s a fair guess that patrons from all three Elf camps will leave singing…
Just sing a Christmas song
And keep on singing all season long
Think of the joy you’ ll bring
If you just close your eyes and sing
Paramount Theatre presents “Elf the Musical” at 23 E Galena Boulevard, Aurora, through January 7, 2018. More information and tickets are available here.