SANDY — Hale Centre Theatre’s Mainstage looks like Christmas threw up inside — but not in a bad way. The overblown stage dressing adorning the space for their new production of Elf The Musical, from the tinsel-lined entryways, to the giant snowflakes with disco-ball centers suspended above the stage. is somehow still lovely in all its silver-and-blue exaggeration. This tempered excess hints at the musical itself: an over-the-top Christmas musical extravaganza with a heartwarming undertone. And excess is the Sandy Hale’s specialty.
If you have never seen a show in the few years since the company moved from West Valley to Sandy, what are you waiting for? It is worth the ticket price just to watch the stage move. Although the use of the multi-faceted hydraulic stage floor and the flying in of entire rooms of scenery in Elf was not quite to the extremes seen in this year’s production of Titanic, the production’s scenic design by Kacey Udy does a solid job of making use of what this state-of-the-art theatre has to offer. From an ice-skating rink to a flying sleigh, the technical stagecraft of this production does not disappoint.
Elf the Musical (with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a script by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan) is based on the film (starring Will Ferrell) about Buddy, a human boy, found as a baby by Santa Claus and raised in the North Pole with Santa’s elves. One day, Buddy decides to embark upon a journey to find his dad in New York City. Of course Buddy finds his dad, and spreads Christmas cheer along the way, ultimately saving Christmas by inspiring cynical New Yorkers to once again believe in Santa. The biggest strength of the musical is that it does not take itself too seriously. Elf is a lovable parody of Christmas and of the big Broadway musical format itself. Under the direction of local favorite Dave Tinney, Hale’s production leans into this format in a big way.
Like Buddy among the elves, everything about this production is over-sized. Buddy, played exuberantly by Alex Fish, initially gets a bit lost among the ensemble in sections of early numbers like “Happy All the Time” and “Not Happy All the Time,” especially when his part falls in the lower vocal register where he is not as strong. However, once Buddy arrives in New York, Fish settles into his own, and he shows greater confidence and power in the big belting Broadway numbers like “World’s Greatest Dad” and “Just Like Him.” Fish’s portrayal of Buddy is enthusiastic, innocent, and all-around loveable. Other stand-out performances are the impressive vocals by Jackie Marshall as Jovie (Buddy’s love-interest) and Elise Pearce as Emily Hobbs, Buddy’s New York stepmother. Greg Hansen is well cast as Buddy’s long lost father, Walter Hobbs, the cold, corporate executive, workaholic who is redeemed from his place on Santa’s naughty list through his reunion with Buddy.
From the giant flying snow globes that establish locations, to its jazz-hands laden dance scenes, there is nothing small about this production. The choreography by Lindsey D. Smith turns it up even more. Smith’s choreography sparkles the most when she has room to show her craft and not a lot of set to get in the way. Some of the best dancing was in the Greenway Office scenes, particularly “Just Like Him,” which is full to the brim of over-the-top roadway dance moves. The best example of Broadway parody is the unapologetic all-in jazz number “Nobody Cares About Santa” in all its high-kicking Rockettes-style glory. Even though the number gets a little muddy as the chorus of Santas wield their giant red bags in the air, this lack of precision in their haggard characters and varied interpretations of Santa’s suit only added to the comedy of the bit.
The costuming by Jenn Taylor is splendid, as is expected at a Hale production. Santa’s robe is designed with exquisite detail and creates a memorable figure that replicates what people expect from the “real” Santa. The colorful and glittery costumes of the North Pole contrast perfectly with the cool tones of the New York office scenes, and the luscious white costuming in the finale are stunning. The lighting by Jaron Kent Hermansen is well done, especially the suspended balls of light bouncing up and down at different points of the show, which lend the production even more fun and whimsy.
The production’s score is consistently big Broadway, but also not very memorable. I did not leave with catchy refrains echoing in my head. And despite all the outsized Christmas spirit, I wish Sklar had inserted, even subtly, some familiar Christmas musical themes into the score. Every time Buddy invites others to sing Christmas songs with him, I vainly hope for something familiar and Christmasy. Surprisingly, the most memorable musical moment of the production was when Buddy plays, with dramatic confidence and flare, the entire “Carol of the Bells” with a single handbell. That moment is a marvelous combination of Fish’s comedic timing, Tinney’s direction and the joy of Christmas.
Unsurprisingly, Elf the Musical did not leave me pondering any deeper meaning in the show’s heartwarming message. It is just a show that clearly wants its audience to rediscover the joy and magic of the season with people they love. But the show does make for a fun evening out with those loved ones. And that is the show’s success: getting people out together to joyfully ring in the “Sparkle Jolly Twinkle Jingly” season. And that is what Elf and the talented team at the Hale do best.