Review of Elf The Broadway Musical at Proctors
by Katie Beltramo
Elf The Broadway Musical is at Proctors in Schenectady through Sunday, December 28, 2014. Should you take your family? Read on for KidsOutAndAbout.com's review.
Elf, based on the 2003 Will Ferrell movie of the same name, is the goofy and fun-loving story of Buddy, who has grown up at the North Pole believing that he is one of Santa's elves. When he discovers that he's actually human, he sets out to find his father in New York City. Elf is a crowd-pleaser, with big dance numbers, plenty of jokes, and loads of Christmas spirit. It's not sophisticated, but it's entertaining.
Daniel Patrick Smith, playing Buddy, is the linchpin of the show, and he manages to pull off the over-the-top mirth that makes his character so charming and loveable. His impressive vocal range and ability to make the most foolish statements seem utterly sincere won our audience over early, and their affection only grew. At our show, Shane Treloar played Michael, Buddy's younger half-brother. His duets with his mother Emily, played by Allison Mickelson, are highlights of the show: their blended voices are terrific, especially for the fast-paced "There is a Santa Claus." Buddy and Michael's Dad Walter (D. Scott Withers) and Buddy's love interest Jovie (Daryn Harrell), suffer the misfortune of starting out as rather dour, gloomy characters, but as you might expect, they come around in the end. Two other stand-outs crowd favorites are the Arthur Ross as the Store Manager (and a Santa) and Audra Qualley, who plays the secretary, Deb.
Elf includes several ensemble pieces that are catchy and great fun to watch, including a bit of juggling at Macy's, some creative choreography from the Santas on Christmas Eve, and most particularly, the rainbow of joyful elves dancing around on their knees at Christmastown. The music was excellent, too, and if you have a chance at intermission, it's worth a stroll to check out the musicians.
The set is a crucial part of the musical, and it really adds to the fantasy. The entire musical is framed as a storybook, and the backdrops in particular look like they come straight from a favorite storybook. The effect is most dramatic in those scenes in which several looks are layered: the entire stage is framed by a rustic-looking frame, and during scenes at Walter's office, the action is focused on the office's interior, which is framed by the building's exterior as well as curtains of snow. It looks like a Jan Brett picture book. The musical also takes advantage of its iconic New York City setting with images of Rockefeller Center, Tavern on the Green, and Macy's, which will delight kids who have visited the city at Christmas.
Cautions about the script
In offering up gags for adults along with the basic story for children, the script disappoints by needlessly throwing in the occasional curse word or offering up jokes at Santa's expense. Examples of words that might make you wince include hell, bitchy, sucked, and screw you. Some jokes are tacky: An elf with a Latina accent is named Tequila, and among all the fake Santas, why must it be the black Santa who "gotsta" get his wife a last-minute Christmas gift at Walgreens? It feels like a missed opportunity, because the single funniest character is our hero, Buddy, who always models kindness. These mean-spirited jokes betray the values of the show and certainly aren't values most parents would endorse. These are a small portion of the show overall, of course, so you can hope the remarks fly right over the kids' heads or emotionally prepare yourself to talk about them on the way home, depending on your child and your energy level. Meanwhile, Santa starts the show sounding like a bit of a curmudgeon, bemoaning the fact that his elves are "Happy All The Time," which, among other things, occasionally makes him wish he were Jewish. In the story, he's quit flying reindeer ever since he received "a nasty letter from PETA." Spoiler alert: you will not see reindeer during this show. If you have a Believer in your family, you can pre-empt this by reminding kids that even this Santa isn't the real Santa: He's too busy to be in a play! So some of the things that he says aren't necessarily authentic.
Any Santa Spoilers?
And what about the believing-in-Santa issue? Elf, like its namesake movie and others before them (Miracle on 34th Street, for example), maintains that Santa is real while mentioning, repeatedly, that most grown-ups don't believe in him. In fact, a whole crowd of Santas sing about how people don't believe anymore, although Buddy opens the scene explaining that he understands that they're Santa's helpers.The only other possible parenting caution I offer is that when one character is said to be on the "naughty list," Buddy asks, "Did he wet the bed?" I'm just warning you in case you're currently experiencing bed-wetting drama in your household.
Elf has some terrific actors, great music, fun choreography, and a gorgeous set, and it's a fun, easily-accessible outing to the theater. By the end of the musical, everyone believes in Santa as they should, each grouch has embraced his or her inner elf, and the cast joins together for a terrific final number that will leave you filled with the Christmas spirit.
Elf The Broadway Musical is at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady through Sunday, December 28, 2014 (no shows on Christmas). The show runs just under 2-and-a-half hours, with a 20-minute intermission. Tickets cost $20 to $75 and are available online.
Photographs by Doug Blemker, provided by Proctors.