I love Christmas. As I write this, a full week before Thanksgiving, my decorations are up, my tree is fully decorated, and all the gifts are bought, wrapped, and in place. I think it’s great that malls start the holiday right after Halloween; I wish Christmas lasted eight months, at least.
So, I really wanted to be transported by Elf, and I was disappointed when the magic just didn’t happen for me. First of all, it isn’t The Big Show that was promised; it’s actually pretty scaled down. Second, while the music is very up and show biz, it’s not particularly original or memorable. And third strike, the 2003 movie is still very available, and it’s so much more.
But it is a great show for kids, it will bring in the tourists, and there’s nothing offensive about it. The scenery moves, and so does the plot. The story of the elf, Buddy, who learns he’s human and goes off to find his father in New York is simple and compelling. The fact that he also finds his family, good friends, and the love of his life, is heartwarming.
However, I’m recommending it for one overwhelming reason. The cast is extraordinary. If you have any doubts, just read the bios. This is a gathering of consummate professionals.
Sebastian Arcelus, in the title role, is the perfect combination of sparkling talent and unwavering charm. He’s totally appealing in what could be a sickening sweet role, and he never betrays even a hint of cynicism. He reminds me a lot of the equally adorable Bob Martin, who wrote and starred in The Drowsy Chaperone. Martin is also credited as one of the writers on this show. One note to the costume department: will someone please get Arcelus out of that damned mohair suit? He’s shvitzing from beginning to end.
As Buddy’s equally quirky love interest, Jovie, Amy Spanger lights up the stage. This is an actress who tends to steal every show she’s been in, through the sheer brilliance of her performance. She’s got tremendous range, and I think she’s going to be a big, really big, star.
Beth Leavel, as stepmom Emily, is a Broadway vet who brings to every performance the excitement of opening night. She sings and dances like a dream, and her deft comedy timing makes her remind me of Carol Burnett.
Most actresses would vanish in the role of Deb, the secretary. Valerie Wright absolutely shines. She has major Velcro; when she’s on stage, you watch her to see what she’s going to do next. A spectacular dancer, she’s a credit to Gypsies everywhere.
I can’t stop thinking Addams Family when I look at Matthew Gumley, but man, the kid sure can belt out a tune. And he has real chemistry with both Arcelus, as his super goofy older half-brother, and Leavel, as his mom.
I first noticed Mark Jacoby in Ragtime, and I’ve tracked his career ever since. His Walter is not a very good husband or father for most of the play. But Jacoby brings a humanity and desperation to the part, which makes us cheer for his transformation. He may turn into a mensch late in the game, but we can believe he has really been a good guy underneath all the stress. We can relate to letting the job and fear of failure cloud family issues, and we root for him.
In addition to their obvious high standards and talent, the greatest gift these performers bring to this play is their shared joy of being on stage. This elation spreads out into the audience and envelopes us. It spackles over an awful lot of mediocrity in this musical. It is available for only a brief moment in theater time, and is well worth the price of admission.
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
302 West 45th Street
Through January 2, 2011
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, International Association of Theatre Critics. www.michalljeffers.com