Santa’s little helper spreads plenty of Christmas cheer
November 20, 2018
By Barbara Schuler
Precipitation is falling at the John W. Engeman Theater again, only instead of the impressive deluge of May’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” we get a paper-shredder blizzard in the happy holiday romp “Elf the Musical.”
The Northport theater welcomes the season with this family-friendly adaptation by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin of the hit 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell. Here the lovable, galumphing elf Buddy is played by Erik Gratton, who couldn’t be more comfortable in the role, having done it last year at Madison Square Garden. Buddy towers over the other elves and his toymaking skills are woefully lacking — no surprise since he’s really a human orphan who climbed into Santa’s sack one Christmas and ended up being raised at the North Pole.
Santa (the delightfully jolly Gordon Gray, who also serves as narrator) spills the beans, revealing to Buddy that his publishing executive father, unaware he had a child, is on the naughty list because he’s lost the Christmas spirit. Needless to say, Buddy sets off to New York to do what elves do — fix things.
It’s a corny, predictable story with a first act that could stand tightening, but the infectious performances win out under the direction of Matt Kunkel. Gratton is perfect as Buddy, an adorable klutz who mixes childlike wonder with worldly wisdom. Wandering the city, he ends up at Macy’s, where he meets his future wife, Jovie (Caitlin Gallogly), before finally connecting with his family — dad Walter Hobbs (Joe Gately), a stressed-out workaholic with little time for his wife, Emily (Christianne Tisdale), and son Michael (Zachary Podair).
The ensemble gets quite a workout in the show, especially when, as elves, they are required to perform Mara Newbery Greer’s lighthearted choreography on their knees. Ouch! But the best number was the tap-dancing chorus line of fake Santas, in an eclectic mix of red outfits (love the Santa camouflage) by costume designer Leon Dobkowski. The charming set by Nate Bertone adds to the merriment.
In general, the music by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin is generic and not especially memorable, though Gallogly manages to turn “Never Fall in Love (With an Elf)” into a sizzling torch song, and the Macy’s staff’s “Sparklejollytwinklejingley ” is a lot more fun than beleaguered seasonal workers normally display. Needless to say, holiday spirit is restored in time for the finale — as Buddy brings his family together, the cast joyfully proclaims the best way to spread Christmas cheer is “singing loud for all to hear.”