Chicago Theatre Review
No Mere Elf on the Shelf
Elf, the Musical – Paramount Theatre
The Christmas season provides audiences with so many different holiday movies, several that have even been successfully adapted for the stage. It’s almost overwhelming. There are, of course, the myriad versions of “A Christmas Carol;” but there’s also “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “White Christmas,” “A Christmas Story,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” But, of the many Christmas movies from the past decade, one of the newest and most beloved is the story of Buddy the Elf. The film starred Saturday Night Live comedian Will Ferrell in the title role and it’s both funny and touching.
Like the movie, Paramount Theatre’s holiday offering is no mere cutesy Elf on the Shelf. This is a big, dazzling, eye-popping production, filled with magic, spectacle, and chocked full of talented musical actors and supported by gifted behind-the-scenes artists. Superbly directed and gleefully choreographed by the incredible and incomparable Amber Mak, who charmed audiences last season with the Jeff Award-winning “The Little Mermaid,” once again plies her creative talents to guide this heartwarming show.
The musical tells about how Buddy, an orphaned, six foot tall human, came to be raised by elves at the North Pole. He’s an earnest, but bumbling toy builder for Santa. When the jolly old elf finally
realizes that Buddy is out of his league, Mr. Claus suggests that he head off to NYC, in order to reunite with his human family. Buddy finds that his dad, Walter Hobbs, is a bitter, frustrated workaholic in children’s publishing and located in the Empire State Building. Emily and Michael, Buddy’s stepmom and stepbrother, share much of Walter’s pessimism, particularly during the busy holidays. Even at Macy’s, where the staff has been instructed to decorate the toy department to Santa’s specifications, Buddy finds the holiday workers are also in need of an attitude adjustment. This is particularly true of Jovie, a cynical salesgirl whose snarky attitude and bleak disposition attract and challenge Buddy. But in grand holiday tradition, both exhilarating and encouraging, Buddy inspires everyone around him, even New York’s most skeptical citizens. By the final curtain all of the Big Apple is once again believing 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 smart, 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, this musical sports an old-fashioned Broadway look and sound. While it probably won’t set new theatrical standards, “Elf, the Musical” accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It offers a charming, very funny, colorful holiday musical that every young theatergoer and his parents is sure to enjoy.
Chicago newcomer Kyle Adams is wonderful in the lead role. He’s appropriately quirky, extra lovable and completely captivating as Buddy, the Elf. Adams was truly born to play this role, and he’s perfect as the 6-foot, 4-inch elf, towering high above all of Santa’s other workers. Mr. Adams plays his role full-out, with honesty, goofy enthusiasm and total likability. An accomplished actor, singer and dancer, Adams achieves the impossible by making us forget Will Ferrell’s iconic performance. This role truly belongs to Kyle Adams; and it’s bound to be just the beginning for this gifted young actor.
Chicago veteran actors Michael Accardo (“A Christmas Story”) and Lara Filip (“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”) are terrific as Buddy’s new, human parents. Together they journey from being a non-believing Manhattanite couple to become a happy, loving family who embrace Christmas and each other, thanks to their effervescent new son. The audience eagerly joins Walter and Emily Hobbs on their trip to redemption and the joy that the holiday holds. Talented newcomer Oliver Boomer, making his regional theatre debut in Aurora, is outstanding as Buddy’s 12-year-old stepbrother, Michael. Young Mr. Boomer has a winning smile, a natural, engaging demeanor and a singing voice that soars with skill and enthusiasm. His musical numbers, especially his duets with Ms. Filip, are exquisite. There’s little doubt that audiences will be enjoying this professional young actor in many future productions to come.
Beautiful Samantha Pauly’s forthright portrayal of Jovie is absolutely captivating. Reminding savvy theatergoers of a young Sarah Silverman, Ms. Pauly captures all the sass and sarcasm of this lonely Macy’s employee who reluctantly falls under Buddy’s spell of holiday joy and optimism. Sarah Pauly is truly an accomplished, luminous musical theatre actress, having recently wowed audiences in Marriott’s “Honeymoon in Vegas” and “Evita.” Here she lights up the stage in every scene; and Ms. Pauly almost stops the show with her beautifully sung, plaintive solo, “Never Fall in Love.”
The supporting characters are all played with warmth and charisma. The ever sensational Roger Mueller is feisty and funny as Santa Claus, the show’s narrator and the beloved character who sets Buddy’s story in motion. Chicago favorite George Keating is properly humorous and Scrooge-like as villainous, mercenary mogul, Mr. Greenway. In a supporting role, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (“The Little Mermaid”) once again turns in a winning performance, this time as the beleaguered Macy’s Store Manager (James Earl Jones II takes over the role in January). The rest of the talented, 35-member ensemble is led by Emily Agy as Deb, Mr. Hobbs’ optimistic office overseer, who’s played with mirth and merriment. J Tyler Whitmer makes an appropriately pompous elf named Charlie. Matt Casey and Michael Ehlers hilariously play Walter Hobbs’ two put-upon publishing assistants. They lead this marvelous company toward a jaw-dropping grand finale in Central Park that will surprise and warm the heart of even the Grinchiest audience member.
This sweet, sparkling and spunky musical is the perfect family holiday entertainment. Its shrewd, smartly written dialogue shimmers and the score is delightfully bouncy and infectious. Director Amber Mak is assisted by a team of gifted, Jeff-nominated and Award-winning theatre artists. They include expert musical director Tom Vendafreddo, who also conducts his talented 16-member pit orchestra; an impressive and blindingly colorful Broadway-calibre set, designed to perfection by Jeffrey D. Kmiec; tandem work with brilliant lighting designer, Greg Hofmann; and flashy, kaleidoscopic and whimsical costumes created by Theresa Ham. They’re aided by talented Chicago newcomer Joseph A. Burke with his eye-popping moving projections, along with Katie Cordts, with her fanciful hair and wig designs.
This polished, professional musical story of Buddy the Elf is sure to become Chicagoland’s new favorite holiday show. Jim Corti might consider making it an annual event. It’s an optimistic, joyful musical that’s filled with color and spectacle, high-flying magic and even ice skating. The show features something for audiences of all ages and, at the Award-winning Paramount Theatre, it truly becomes a winter wonderland Broadway in the ‘burbs.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 22-January 7 by Paramount Theatre, 23 East Galena Blvd., Aurora, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 630-896-6666 or by going to www.paramountaurora.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.