AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Book by Thomas Meehan & Bob Martin
Music by Matthew Sklar
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Based upon the New Line Cinema film written by David Berenbaum
Directed & Choreographed by Marc Robin
Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
For Tickets call: 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or or go to Ticketmaster
Playing now through January 5, 2014

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Here’s a quick Christmas quiz. Who’s big and green and tap dances like Fred Astaire? Answer: Christopher Sutton as Buddy the Elf. Where can you see a stage full of disgruntled Santas hoofing like there’s no tomorrow? Answer: Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Elf. What turned an okay musical into Christmas magic? Answer: The authors’ new revised version plus director/choreographer, Marc Robin.

Based on the 2003 film of the same name, starring Will Ferrell, Elf is the story of a young orphan child, who one Christmas Eve crawls into Santa’s bag and ends up at the North Pole. The Elves adopt William “Buddy” Hobbs and bring him up to be an Elf. Only Buddy’s too big for the Elf lifestyle and a terrible toymaker. So when he discovers that he is actually a regular human, Santa sends him to New York City to find his family. Discovering that his father. Walter Hobbs, is on the naughty list and his step-brother, Michael, doesn’t believe in Santa anymore; Buddy sets out to bring the spirit of Christmas back to the Big Apple.

Reviews for the Broadway show (which had a limited run at the Al Hirschfield Theater from November 2010 – January 2011) praised the joke filled book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin but derided the show as being generic. Despite these mixed reviews the show broke box office records at the Hirschfield and returned in 2012 with a revised book and a new opening number -- Happy All the Time. This clever new version combined with Marc Robin’s stellar direction has created a simply delicious Christmas concoction.

Christopher Sutton is adorable as Buddy the lovable Elf, whether he’s doing hat tricks, pratfalls or slurping up spaghetti with maple syrup. He mimics the physical movements created by Will Ferrell in the film and yet manages to create his own unique interpretation of the role. On top of all this he sings and dances up a storm. What’s not to like? Bill Van Horn opens the show as Santa, who tells the story of Buddy the Elf. Big, blustery and endearing – he’s my idea of the perfect, jolly, old Saint Nick. Charles Pistone is quite intimidating as Walter Hobbs, Buddy’s workaholic father who doesn’t have time for neither family nor Christmas. J. D. Triolo as Michael, Buddy’s step-brother, is a terrific young performer with a great voice. Kate Fahrner is lovely as the shy Jovie who learns to sing (with a crystal clear resonance) and falls in love with Buddy. Cary Michelle Miller elfin in appearance (though she does not play an elf) is indefatigably perky as Deb, Walter’s optimistic secretary. And Paul L. Nolan, as Mr. Greenway, the true villain of the piece, is a man we love to hate.

The vibrant costumes by Coleen Grady are especially scrumdidlyumptious with a color palette that spans the rainbow. The playful set by Robert Andrew Kovach is one big giant holiday present that unwraps itself before our eyes. Elves on tricycles? Ice Skating on real ice? A live baby? I don’t know if these were in the original production – but they are at the Walnut! I have to say that throughout the entire show – the smile never left my face. (This usually only happens when I watch The Rockettes.) Kudos to the Walnut for starting the holiday cheer early this year. If you want a holiday treat – take the kids, take grandma and buy your tickets now.

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