Excited adults and children waited in the audience and backstage for the opening music of the prelude to ELF-The Musical. As the curtain rose, we found ourselves in Santa's living room. Yes, at the North Pole. What fun to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus played by Bill Frey and Patty Payne.
On the streets of Christmas-town, we meet Buddy, the Elf played by Chris Hallowes, along with his friends Charlie (Luke Patton/Luke Smith) and Shawanda (Kyra Crosby). Santa and the Elves are there to join in singing Happy All the Time. Buddy, in his unique green costume with large pointed hat, towers over the rest of the Elves. He does not quite fit. Like many of the 20 youngsters in the show, he is wondering who he is, where he came from and what he is to do in life. Raised as an Elf, Buddy cries when he overhears that he may be human.
Set designer Adam Miecielica and projection designer Crissy Varnell enable the background scenes to change, revealing the living rooms of Santa, of the Hobbs family, the board room of Greenway Press, The Chung Fu Palace, the Tavern on the Green or the appearance of any of the 18 scenes.
The ensemble is comprised of adults, youth and teens. The adult members of the 2019 Resident/Associate Acting Company are Justin Burr, Cory Clark, Jensen Crain-Foster, Bill Fry, DeAnna Etchison, Ross Griffin, Ethan Hall, Rachel Lawrence, Heather McCall, Charlie Munday, Patty Payne, Michael Ruff, Caitlin Schaub, McKenna Silva, Zachary Taylor and Grayson Yokey.
Many of the youth/teen members of the Ensemble have been part of the Triple Threat Dance program for years. Their age range is from third grade through high school: Zolah Beeler, Zuranda Beeler, Sophie Burnett, Maggie Lisic, Morgan Neal, Sarah Kate Norris, Luke Patton, Lily Rigney, Luke Smith, Gracie Jo Stone, Ryleigh Street and Kendall Walker.
Andy Wallach and the company of seamstresses have created wondrous costumes for innumerable elves and Santas, as well as ordinary folk.
The choreography of Jensen Crain-Foster and Charlie Munday is amazing. Their creativity and skill has brought intricate dance sequences throughout the show. Given the age and skill difference of the members of the ensemble, it is quite an amazing feat to see the dances so well executed.
This is a musical. Ron Murphy and his 10-piece pit orchestra move the show along, without dominating it. They skillfully underscore and support what is happening on stage. Team work is an integral aspect of theater, these musicians embody that skill.
Buddy works hard with the other elves in Santa's workshop. His skills do not lie in the area of toy making. Assigned to create the familiar Etch A Sketch toys, he holds up production.
If you saw the film on which the play is based, you know the story: a baby is born in New York, the mother died, and somehow, the baby ended up in Santa's bag. The child is raised among the elves. However, obviously, he kept growing and no longer “fit in” at the North Pole. Santa, the only father Buddy Elf has ever known, finally tells him the story. Buddy is determined to go to New York City to search for the man who fathered him. As Buddy travels, Hallowes sings of his imagined World's Greatest Dad.
Knowing his dad's name is Walter Hobbs and that he works in the Empire State Building, Buddy goes there. In the offices of Greenway Press, we find havoc. Office manager Deb (Weslie Webster with her hilarious hairdo) and Walter Hobbs (Britt Hancock) are joined by Walter’s wife, Emily Hobbs (Lauren Marshall) and son, Michael Hobbs, (Matt Patton and Altair Zentgraf alternate in this key role). They have gotten word of a strange person claiming to be Walters’ son.
The Greenway Press office is overwhelmed by all these folk who are “In the Way.” Obviously not wanted there, Buddy makes his way to Macy's Department Store where, he is told, Santa can be found. Buddy learns a new aspect of big city life. Michael Ruff, the harried Macy's manager encourages the activity of the ensemble to create a world of SprakleJolly-TwinkleJingly. Buddy is horrified to meet fake Santa (Grayson Yockey).
The Hobbs family is unprepared to have Buddy announce himself as part of the family. Walter did not know the child existed. To be honest, neither Emily nor Walter nor Michael believe in Santa. Lauren Marshall presents a mother who makes every effort to have her young son know he is loved, even when husband and father have little time for them. The role of Michael demands a fine singing voice for fine duets with Marshall singing “I Believe in You” and later “There Is A Santa Claus.”
Removing his tall elf hat and changing him into a business suit does not make Buddy fit into the corporate world of his new-found dad. Jovie (Jess Griffin) is the one person able and willing to accept Buddy as he is. They skate in Rockefeller Center, they walk the streets together. Jess Griffin brings us Jovie who is lonely herself. In caring for Buddy, she, too, emerges as one able to be loved, though she advises in song: “Never Fall in Love (with an Elf).”
Elf-The Musical will be dancing its way into the hearts of audiences through Dec. 21. It is rated G. (Little ones may be unprepared for the questions about believing in Santa.) Go on line or call the Cumberland County Playhouse at (931) 484-5000, any day but Wednesday, to reserve your tickets.