When it was announced that Marriott Theatre was presenting “ELF” as their “holiday” musical, I thought they might have lost their minds. Yes, the film was hysterical. It was star-studded and designed to fit Will Farrell and his zaniness. Having tough guy James Caan play his mysterious father was perfect casting as well. For those of you unfamiliar with the storyline, “Elf” is the story of an orphan baby that somehow gets into Santa’s bag and ends up at The North Pole. The Elves take him in as their own and he grows up living the life of an “Elf”. Time passes and as he reaches adulthood, he sees that he does not fit in and he is told that while his mother had passed on, he did indeed have a father who lives in New York and he is sent off to meet and become a “human” as he should be. That is the story and the mis-adventures of the 6 foot tall “Elf” who has no ideas how the real world works begins. Cute, hah?
The movie was cute and then the Broadway production was done. which then came to Chicago as part of The Broadway In Chicago series and was just so-so. Thus when Marriott announced this to be their “Holiday” show, as I stated earlier, I thought that perhaps Terry James and company had erred. But then I read the notes that said the show was being directed by Marc Robin, who probably understands the stage of the Marriott better than any other director, having spent many years bringing shows to life on the small, stage in the round. I then thought, well, they might just be able to pull it off. Reading even further, I saw that they had cast, in the title role of Buddy the Elf, Alex Goodrich, who is by far the best choice ever for this zany part. In fact, his character is even stronger than the one that Farrell brought to the film and he does it 8 times a week! Watching him do this role is worth the price of the ticket, but wait- he cannot dfo it alone. It is a true “ensemble piece”!
This is an amazing production of a so-so musical that is geared for family fun. There are lots of musical numbers with some terrific dancing (with Robin there is always great dance and it seems always a tap number). Ryan T. Nelson is the musical director and Patti Garwood and her 7 musicians make the music come alive as it propels the story from start to finish. The book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin and music (Matthew Sklar) and lyrics (Chad Beguelin) are nice but unlike many of the musicals at Marriott, not ones where you will find yourself joining in or humming along and I doubt that you will remember one melody an hour after you leave the theater. You will however be well entertained by the two-hours and fifteen minutes of solid story-telling with a solid cast of actors who will take you away from your everyday life and make you feel better than you did when you walked into the theater.
A lot of the credit is due to the superb direction by Robin (who also did the choreography) and his tech crew who made the set changes in the open stage area swiftly so we never lose the story that is being told. The set (Thomas M. Ryan), lighting (Jesse Klug), divine and very colorful costumes (the amazing Nancy Missimi) and properties (Sally Weiss-where does she find the stuff?) along with the sound (Robert E. Gilmartin) are all parts of the recipe that have made Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire one of the shining lights in the Chicago theater scene. Even a weaker script like this one takes on a shining light when a director, crew and cast believe in what they bring to their stage. In the show, Santa (well played by Chicago favorite Roger Mueller) says that he needs the people to believe in Santa and Christmas so he can fly his sleigh and make his rounds. In the case of this script, it is the audience believing in the cast that makes the show move through the script even better than the script itself. Bravo!
Let me list this powerful and highly energetic cast: Kevin Gudahl plays the mean father who has no use for anything but work and his job is to publish children’s books, his wife (the lovely Susie McMonagle) and their “other son, Michael (young, newcomer Cam Ezell, who I am sure we will see more of in years to come). The love interest for Buddy is Dara Cameron, who shows her vocal range as well as her acting strength in her role as Jovie. Other cast members are Neil Friedman, George Keating, the hysterical James Earl Jones II, Susan Moniz Justin Brill, Patrick Lane, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Samantha Pauly, Liam Quealy, Laura Savage, Gabriel Mudd, Will Anderson, Julie Baird, Brian Bohr, Katie Johannigman, Zoe Nadal, Collin Sanderson, Isabelle Roberts and Emily Zimmerman. Each of these performers gives 110% and many play additional roles with quick costume changes to match their characters. Let’s face it “ELF” is a fun night out at the theater. A diversion from the stress of politics, taxes and inflation! If nothing else, you will find yourself thinking about your own “inner (s)elf”.