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Theater Review: Elf, The Musical

Christopher Deau
Kalamazoo Civic Theatre

The Christmas season is well under way on stage in Kalamazoo. WMUK's Gordon Bolar has this review of Elf, The Musical at the Civic Theatre.

Most people are aware of the 2003 film Elf with Will Ferrell in the title role. The story of Buddy the Elf is brought to the local stage as a musical that delivers holiday humor, uplifting songs, lively dancing and, most important, a full dose of the Christmas spirit.

Jack Pinto, clad in pointy hat, gold tights, and curly-toed green slippers, brings appropriately over-the-top enthusiasm to the role of Buddy, a young man raised from infancy in Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. Early in the show, however, Buddy discovers that he's neither Santa’s elf nor his son, but instead the offspring of a New York publishing executive. Undaunted, he resolves to travel to meet his workaholic father, Walter Hobbs, aptly rendered as a stiff, stuffed suit by Kevin Hopp.

Pinto’s energy never flags throughout his character’s journey to become more fully human and a full-fledged member of the Hobbs family. His character’s refreshingly upbeat take on life is consistently up front as he moves his lanky and agile frame through dance filled numbers including the opening “Happy All the Time” or later on in “Just Like Him.”

Credit Kalamazoo Civic Theatre
Kalamazoo Civic Theatre

What really makes this show take flight are Pinto’s child-like interactions and his chemistry with other characters. His immediate bond with Hobbs’ secretary Deb, played by Kathleen B. Weissert, is a prime example. In spoken word, song and dance, the vivacious Weissert accentuates the power of Buddy’s contagious positivity and unabashed naivete in the face of a cynical New York business environment.

Pinto is also supported in his efforts by Michael Davis-Arnold, the Macy’s manager who lights up the store’s "Santa Land," in a candycane dance with a Rockette kick-line finish to the number “Sparklejollytwinklejingley”. Davis-Arnold is one of those performers who lifts every scene they are in. He also contributes mightily to the second act show-stopper, “Nobody Cares About Santa”. Here more than half-a-dozen bearded Santas lounge about a Chinese restaurant in various stages of undress after a hard day’s work on their department store thrones. After lamenting the lack of respect paid by kids who text their friends from Santa’s lap, they break into a steamy, slinky, Bob Fosse-like, raucous dance on bentwood chairs in the evening’s most hilarious number.

Amy Leskowski, as Emily Hobbs, and her son Michael, played by Peter Bryant, round out the Hobbs family and share an appealing duet as they pen a letter to Santa with “I’ll Believe in You”.

In the world of holiday musicals, even elves have love interests. The plot set up is elf meets girl, then elf loses girl. Sufia Sharief plays Buddy’s girlfriend, Jovie. After being stood up, she shares her misgivings about Buddy with “Never Fall in Love”. She returns to Buddy, a slightly more humanized elf, with a strong reprise of “A Christmas Song”. All ends well on Christmas Eve as elf gets girl.

Director Tony Humrichouser’s production runs smoothly throughout and is enhanced by Lesa Dencklau’s inventive choreography, Liz Haas’s costumes, and seamless scene changes thanks to David Kyhn’s magical projections.

The sound levels for the microphones seemed uneven for some of the characters on opening night and consequently a few key lines were lost. This will hopefully be adjusted during the remainder of the run through December 8th.

An introduction of the story by the real Santa Claus is the only cumbersome part of the evening and the script itself. But the Jolly Old Elf does get the sleigh off the ground, literally and figuratively, by evening’s end.

Part of the charm of this show is that it drags the figure of Santa Claus kicking and screaming into the 21st century and updates him with an iPad, a thirst for Bell’s beer, and a team of reindeer curtailed by the animal rights group PETA.

In the final analysis, Elf, the Musical provides a slightly different take on an old story and puts a human face on Santa’s helpers and the man in the red suit. Judging from the audience's reaction, this show is a good bet for holiday entertainment and just plain family fun.

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