KAYSVILLE — Elf the Musical is based on the 2003 movie of the same name. It premiered on Broadway in 2011, and has been a frequent Christmas season staple in many of the Utah Theatres. Directed this year at the Hopebox by Andra Thorne, this production started out with some impressive costumes by Shelbi Raynor (I found myself sincerely coveting one of the elves’ purple dresses) and an intensely jovial Buddy the elf played by Jayson LeBaron, whose level of sweetness was so high that my diabetic self did worry that perhaps I needed to check my blood sugar. Fortunately, this sweetness was in keeping with the role, and LaBaron was able to do the difficult job of pulling off the sweetness with a hint of unbelievability yet sincerity.
The story follows Buddy, who was raised as an Elf at the North Pole with Santa, played by Jerry LeBaron, and the other elves but learns that he was really born a human whose mother died and his father, Walter Hobbs, played by Zach West, never knew about him. Thus Buddy sets out on an adventure to New York City to find his father, who is on the naughty list, and to build a relationship with him. What could go wrong?
The Hopebox production was full of a lot of little delightful things that made this a fun evening. Choreographers Allison Hogge and Andra Thorne seemed to have a fantastic time helping the cast put joy into all the dancing, especially with the songs, “Happy All the Time,” “SparkleJollyTwinkleJingley,” and, “A Christmas Song.” I especially loved the tap dancing that was added at the finale, because I am sucker of a musical theatre lover, and I just love a good tap dance number.
I also felt that the casting in this show was wonderful, with many of the side roles getting a chance to shine. Brittany Salazar played a really strong Emily Hobbs, frustrated with her workaholic husband, but not doing it in a way that came across as just complaining, bringing more heart and feeling to the role, as well as her golden voice. Noah West as young son Michael Hobbs and new stepbrother to Buddy had some really fun facial expressions that had me laughing, and he also was impressive with his vocalization. And Zach West as the grumpy Walter Hobbs who does learn and grow by the end of the show put enough characterization into the performance that it did seem believable that he could transform even if the writing keeps him angry up until the very end. Finally, Jovie, played by Karina LeBaron, was absolutely wonderful in her grumpy, “I just don’t like Christmas I have been too disappointed in the past,” portrayal. Maybe I identify too much with that character, but I felt like she brought some needed realism within all the saccharine. Having said that, her growth and acceptance of the magic also was believable and impressive.
I do not exactly know who to credit for some of the choices, if it was direction from Andra Thorne, scene design from Curtis Dalton, props design by RyLeigh Thorne, or a combination of all of the above, but a couple of things scattered throughout the show made for some really fun tidbits, such as a tree that comes down unexpectedly during an ice skating scene, roller blades doubling as ice skates, well timed fog machines, and the colorful and fun costumes. The show was put together quite nicely. I should also mention that the lighting design by Derek Raynor was quite nice, especially during the song, “There is a Santa Clause,” where Salazar and the young Noah West performed with a great deal of joy and excitement.
I am not sure that Elf will ever be on a list of any of my favorite shows. Some of the songs were fun to listen to, and it was a charming enough show. This cast and crew certainly did a great job of putting together a nice production of it, and it is absolutely a good show for the whole family. I can see it as something that would be good to bring theatre goers of all ages. Additionally, it is a nice show to add to the rotation of other limited Christmas and holiday options.