Charming Christmas Musical Sings in the Holiday Season
As one of my co-workers declared earlier this week: We need to get some Christmas spirit going! Forget the calendar date because any day can benefit from a little dash of the holiday magic, and what better place to find that magic than the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, which is bringing us the Chicago area regional premiere of “Elf” through the end of the year. The tale of a lovable elf named Buddy who discovers he is human and sets out to meet his real family in contemporary New York City not only inspired a 2003 film starring Will Farrell, but also the 2010 Broadway musical adaptation and a 2014 stop-action animated television special.
There’s a small hitch at Santa’s North Pole workshop. His newfangled motorized sled can no longer depend on reindeer power since some PETA protestors stirred up controversy. So it is up to Christmas lovers everywhere to supply the seasonal cheer to help old Saint Nick make his annual rounds. But too many people these days have lost their faith not only in Santa Claus but the entire spirit of the holidays. The musical “Elf” capitalizes on the same genre of feel-good family entertainments as “Annie” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” as it attempts to redefine family love. We have once again a cheerful and magical outsider who inspires others to find their inner child and humanity. And isn’t that the true purpose of the holidays?
The Marriott has found the ideal human counterpart for our hero Buddy in the gangly and utterly endearing form of actor Alex Goodrich. Buddy has a tremendous heart, as well as a childlike innocence and the unabashed good cheer to warm even the coldest hearts. The sheer sight alone of Goodrich in his green tights and pointy elf shoes will bring a smile to your face. Playwrights Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin pit that old-fashioned sweetness against a jaded assortment of modern Manhattanites and deliver a winning recipe for holiday hilarity.
Goodrich not only wins our hearts and funny bones, but also sings Composer Matthew Sklar and Lyricist Chad Beguelin’s lightly rollicking songs with panache. And he shares the stage with such legendary Chicago treasures as Susie McMonagle, Kevin Gudahl, Susan Moniz, Neil Friedman and James Earl Jones II, all first class stars in their own right. We all know that Santa Claus has been known by different names throughout various cultures and history. In Lincolnshire he is also known as Roger Mueller, benevolent patriarch extraordinaire.
The nicest surprise of the evening however was young Cam Ezell as Buddy’s newly discovered and precocious 12-year-old brother Michael. To say that this phenomenal young talent has an amazing future is insufficient praise. Cam is the present, a beguiling new star with a thrilling voice and a stage presence that practically commands a spotlight. I can hardly wait for his debut album.
The Marriott has entrusted this cute and quirky little musical to that most creative musical theatre magician, Director and Choreographer Marc Robin, whose whimsical ingenuity rarely lags. Robin has managed to create the illusion of an ice skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza, a workshop full of elves merrily peddling about on bicycles, and Santa’s magical sleighmobile ride. And what Marc Robin musical comedy would be complete without a bit of tap dancing? At times the Marriott’s small in-the-round stage is so heavy with traffic it needs a stop light. But what a jolly traffic jam it is. It’s all tied up with colorful ribbons and bows by Costume Designer Nancy Missimi and unfolds beneath Set Designer Thomas Ryan’s festive canopy of twinkling Christmas lights. “Elf” is a charming start to the season.