SMITHFIELD — In my family this time of year is all about traditions. We eat certain foods and treats made only in December. We put the tree up in a particular way right after Thanksgiving while listening to classic Christmas songs. Most importantly, we have a stack of Christmas movies that must all be watched before Christmas Day. At the top of that stack of DVDs is my copy of Elf, the 2003 Christmas comedy starring Will Ferrell. Every year I watch Buddy prance around New York in his yellow tights, and it brings a smile to my face. Since many Christmases have passed since 2003, it’s fair to say that I have seen this movie a lot of times. I felt very familiar with the story as I made my way to Sky View High School to see the Four Season Theatre Company’s version. There were some problems with the production on opening night, but like a plate of Christmas cookies that got smooshed along the way, it was still good, very sweet, and definitely worth a try.
Elf: The Musical premiered on Broadway in 2010 with a book adapted by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan, music by Matthew Sklar, and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. It follows a lot of the general plot you know from the movie, with some tweaking and modernizing along the way. I loved that the book tried to include as many of the quotable parts from the movie as possible, while restructuring the story for the stage. It also adds great new music numbers that are catchy, a little formulaic, but still pleasant, and will get stuck in your head for days.
Director Kody Rash does an excellent job with the flow of the show and pulled double duty as the costume designer. The costumes were a highlight of the production along with the set design by Lineset Design and Fabrication. Both the set and costumes exceeded expectations for a community theatre production. The design maked a stark contrast between the elves in the North Pole and the New Yorkers. I loved the whimsy that the color pallet and lines Gave to the show. It had a Rankin/Bass feel to the production that many associate with classic Christmas.
The musical begins with Santa telling the story of how Buddy had, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s bag when he stopped at an orphanage. Santa and the elves decided to raise the child at the North Pole like an elf. The elves came on stage to a lot of laughter from many audience members because of the wonderful costumes by Rash, which are bright and festive. The actors marched in on their knees to make themselves elf-sized. Unfortunately, their song “Happy All The Time” was one of the main places music director Afton Whitney could have polished more. Santa was particularly hard to understand. As the opening number, it was a bit of a let down that the sound was unbalanced, making it hard to hear any of the solos. However, the gist of the song was still clear that elves are happy, but Buddy is really, really happy all the time.
Buddy, played by Germain Costa, might be a happy elf, but being the slowest toy maker gets Buddy down and makes him feel like a cotton headed ninny muggins. Costa does a great job maintaining the child-like innocence that makes Buddy endearing, but doesn’t quite deliver on the over-the-top exuberance. If you are going to scream that Santa is coming, you have to go all in, but Costa is a little subdued. Also, his hair needs to be pinned out of his face, because he was constantly brushing it from his eyes. That might seem picky, but it was a little distracting from his performance, which had a lot of wonderful moments. Costa’s voice was smooth and silky during his solo “World’s Greatest Dad,” and he had a lot of pizzazz on “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” making the number an utter delight.
Without a doubt, Buddy’s father, Walter Hobbs, played by Logan McKenna, was the stand out performer of the night for me. McKenna was a delight as the gruff and overworked father who has to make an emotional journey to find the spirit of Christmas. His excellent diction and perfect pitch made him stand out during his song, “In the Way.” Another stand out performance is Nalani Matthias as Jovie. I wish the character had been given more places to shine, because Matthias has a gorgeous voice and impressive belting during her solo “Never Fall In Love.” Jovie and Buddy had such sweet Hallmark movie chemistry.
Like any big musical, a large chorus supports the lead roles and brings out the big energy for the dance numbers. There were a couple of numbers that were slightly out of tune, but overall, the chorus of the show is excellent. Choreographers Kelly Bateman, Melisa Jensen and Katie Packer use the space and the dancers well. “SparkleJollyTwinkleJingley,” in particular, gave a big kick line dance feel with very fresh and modern choreography. This was topped, however, in Act II when downtrodden Santas were tap dancing in a diner to “Nobody Cares About Santa.”
While this was not a perfect production (some of the audio equipment was unbalanced or scratchy in places, a few songs were out of tune, and some bolder choices could have been made), I really enjoyed this show. The set and costumes are incredibly impressive. The story reminds me of everything I love about the movie while giving it a fresh spin. The songs are full of Christmas cheer and the performances are, overall, very good. If you want to go see a show with a lot of heart that will warm you up like a cup of maple syrupy sweet hot chocolate, it is worth braving the cold to go see. It is appropriate for patrons of all ages and would make a fun new tradition for all.