Chicago Theatre Review
Warmhearted Family Entertainment
Elf – Marriott Theatre
Of the many Christmas movies from the past decade one of the most beloved is this story of Buddy the Elf, that starred Will Ferrell in the title role. Like the film, Marriott’s production is no mere Elf on the Shelf. It tells how Buddy, an orphaned human, raised by elves at the North Pole to be a toy shop worker for Santa, heads south to NYC in order to meet his real family. Buddy finds that his dad, Walter Hobbs, is a bitter, frustrated workaholic in children’s publishing, located in the Empire State Building. Emily and Michael, Buddy’s stepmom and stepbrother, share much of Walter’s cynicism, particularly during the busy holidays. Even at Macy’s, where the toy department staff has been directed to decorate to Santa’s specifications, Buddy finds the holiday workers in need of an attitude adjustment. This is particularly true for Jovie, a cynical salesgirl whose snarkiness and bleak disposition both attracts and provides a challenge for Buddy. But in grand holiday tradition that’s both heartwarming and motivational, Buddy inspires everyone, even New York’s most skeptical citizens, to once again believe in Santa Claus.
While this story may not have the emotional impact of other holiday fare, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol,” it never-the-less overflows with an abundance of heart and humor. Featuring a contemporary-feeling book by Thomas Meehan (“Annie”) and Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”) and a catchy score (by “The Wedding Singer’s” Matthew Sklar, with lyrics by Chad Beguelin) that sports an old-fashioned Broadway sound, this show probably won’t set new standards but it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It offers a charming, funny, musical, colorful, eye-popping family holiday entertainment that every young theatergoer is sure to enjoy, along with his parents.
The incomparable Marc Robin is at the helm as director and choreographer. His work both is spirited and a spot-on holiday delight. Alex Goodrich is lovable and completely captivating as Buddy, the Elf. He was truly born to play this role, and he’s perfect as the 6-foot, 2-inch elf, towering high above all the rest of Santa’s workers. Mr. Goodrich, the Jeff Award-winning actor of the Marriott’s production of “Hero,” is always Broadway caliber, playing his role full-out with goofy enthusiasm and absolute likability. An accomplished actor, singer and dancer, Mr. Goodrich achieves the impossible and makes comedy look easy.
Chicago veterans Kevin Gudahl and Susie McMonagle are terrific as his new human parents. As they traverse from cynical Manhattanites to loving couple, thanks to their effervescent new son, the audience joins Walter and Emily Hobbs in their rediscovery of the joy of Christmas. Newcomer Cam Ezell, making his Marriott debut, is outstanding as Buddy’s 12-year-old stepbrother, Michael. Young Mr. Ezell has a winning smile, a natural, engaging demeanor and a voice that soars with enthusiasm. There’s little doubt that audiences will be enjoying this professional young actor in future productions all over Chicago. Dara Cameron’s Jovie is simply captivating. Reminding playgoers of a young Tina Fey, Ms. Cameron is the epitome of sarcasm and loneliness until she, too, falls under Buddy’s spell of holiday joy and optimism. Roger Mueller is sensational as Santa Claus, the show’s narrator and Neil Friedman is properly Scrooge-like as the villainous Mr. Greenway. In supporting roles, Marriott favorites Susan Moniz, James Earl Jone II, George Keating and Patrick Lane once again turn in winning performances, leading a marvelous ensemble toward a grand finale in Central Park that will warm the heart of even the Grinchiest audience member.
This warmhearted musical is the perfect family holiday entertainment. Presented with precise, energetic direction and spirited choreography by Marc Robin, this production features a blindingly colorful set and lighting design by Thomas M. Ryan and Jesse Klug, brilliant, whimsical costumes fashioned by Nancy Missimi and superb musical direction by Ryan T. Nelson, with the talented Patti Garwood accompanying her eight-member pit orchestra. The Story of Buddy the Elf is sure to become Chicagoland’s newest, happiest holiday favorite for audiences of all ages.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 21-December 31 by the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the Marriott Theatre box office at 847-634-0200 or by going to www.MarriottTheatre.com. Dinner theatre packages are available on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.chicagotheatrereview.com.