Could Elf – the Musical at the 5th Avenue Theater be your family’s big night out this holiday season?
When I heard that there was a stage musical of the movie Elf I was concerned. Will Ferrell, the star of the movie, is such a large presence in the film and his characterization of Buddy the elf is so integral to the success of the concept I couldn’t easily imagine how another actor could effectively fill that role. Not only do you have to sell jokes that much of the audience is already familiar with, you have to sing, and dance, and generally give a larger than life performance that the theater demands. Could the 5th Avenue find a lead who could carry the show?
The short answer is, yes. Matt Owen, who plays Buddy, is excellent for the role. Not only does he have a big theatrical singing voice but he fully inhabits the character’s inexhaustible effervescent enthusiasm for, well, everything.
Santa, played with grumpy good humor by Sean G. Griffin, kicks things off with an amusing introductory scene establishing the story of how Buddy, a human child, came to the North Pole and was raised by Santa’s elves. This leads into the big number “Christmastown” a hilarious crowd-pleaser that sets the tone for the rest of the show. As important as Buddy’s role is to the success of the show the rest of the cast and the ensemble are very strong as well. Of particular note is Noah Barr who plays Buddy’s 12-year-old half brother. As a young actor he has a decent singing voice and is authentic in his portrayal of the character Michael. Unfortunately, the production is not without its weak points. I felt that Kendra Kassebaum, who plays Buddy’s love interest Jovie, could have done more with her role which was, admittedly, thin to begin with. Allen Fitzpatrick, as Buddy’s father Walter Hobbs, is perfectly fine but lacks the Scrooge-like energy of James Caan from the movie. However these shortcomings can easily be overlooked as the impressive staging takes you from the North Pole, to Central Park, and the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Singing and dancing is one thing but pulling off a musical number while skating on stage – the kids will love it.
Because of the way the story unfolds the second act isn’t quite as fun as the first but it does begin with one of my favorite musical numbers from the show “Nobody Cares About Santa”. How could you not like an ensemble of department store Santas (including the Jewish Santa) singing and dancing in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve? There is a lot to recommend this show and I give it a hearty thumbs up as solid family holiday entertainment.
One item I would like to call out, if your kids still believe in Santa, or like mine, willingly suspend their disbelief, you may want to steer them away from the program which has an essay detailing the history of Santa. It’s a well-meaning effort that is interesting reading for adults but – I think unintentionally – takes all the magic out of the myth.
For a night out, the 5th Avenue is a spectacular destination with its ornate Chinese decor. If you choose to go to an evening performance the marquee out front flashing and rotating and the trees all along 5th Avenue draped in lights make for a magical setting. Although I do want to point out that many of the smaller children at the evening performance I attended were either fast asleep or very tired as we headed home. There are a good number of matinees scheduled through the end of the run and if you have smaller children I would recommend trying to get tickets for those.
So, should Elf – the Musical be your family’s big night out? I say it’s an unqualified yes.
Do you agree or disagree with my assessment or have something to add?
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Let me know what you think.