The Observer Review

Santa’s Elf Buddy on Northport stage

November 22, 2018
By: David Ambro

Gather up the children and get them to the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

The Engeman just opened its holiday show, Elf the Musical, which runs through December 30, and it is terrific.

Erik Gratton, as Buddy, provides a delightfully uplifting rendition of the Elf we have come to love from the movie starring Will Ferrell, right down to a big sip of maple syrup right out of the bottle after a big squeeze onto the pasta he’s eating for breakfast. Mr. Gratton can sing and he can dance, but he also brings heart to Buddy at the Engeman, delivering punch lines and facial expressions that evoke uproarious laughter.

Elf at the Engeman, set in a snow globe, accompanied by a live orchestra, narrated by Gordon Gray, as Santa Claus, a familiar role for him, is a fun-filled journey from the magical Christmastown in the North Pole to the busy streets of New York City, where buddy finds his father Walter Hobbs, played by Joe Gately, an executive at a book publishing company where he has lost his spirit for the holidays and for his family, which has him on Santa’s “naughty list.”

It works.

Mr. Gratton is surrounded by a talented cast of characters. Buddy’s brother Michael, played by 12-year-old Zachary Podair, already a veteran on the Engeman stage, and his mother Emily, played by Christianne Tisdale, are a wonderful supporting cast. Their duets, “I’ll Believe in You” in Act I and “There is a Santa Claus” in Act II, are highlights of a show that just keeps getting better and better with each scene.

Walter Hobbs doesn’t believe Buddy is his son, and has him thrown out of his office in the Empire State Building, landing him in the Santa photo display at the world famous Macy’s Department Store. There, Buddy comes in contact and then in conflict with the store manager, played perfectly in the movie image by Randy Donaldson.

It is also at Macy’s where Buddy meets the girl of his dreams, Jovie, played by Caitlin Gallogly. Although a bit off for an Elf, the relationship evolves typically, a simple boy-meets-girl, a first date, a kiss, etc. But, when Jovie is stood up by Buddy at Tavern on the Green in Central Park, Ms. Gallogly’s star shines in “Never Fall in Love with an Elf,” a voice of beauty that accents the Engeman mantra of bringing Broadway to Main Street.

Elf at the Engeman draws out the Christmas spirit in everyone, enough so that by the end, Santa’s sleigh flies off into the night sky. It is a wonderful holiday production not to be missed.

Tickets may be purchased by calling the theater at 631-261-2900, online at engemantheater.com, or at the theater box office, 250 Main Street in Northport Village.

Elf the Musical is produced by Richard Dolce, the Engeman Theater’s Producing Artistic Director. “We always try to tell our stories so people care about the characters,” Mr. Dolce said during an interview after the press night opening of Elf Saturday, November 17. “We want audiences to care about the journey, no matter what it is, whether it’s Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, whether it’s Jack Kelly in Newsies, or whether it’s Buddy the Elf, we just try to tell the story so that you care about it. So, that by the end of the play you care about who they are and what they’ve gone through. Hopefully we’ve pulled it off again.

Mr. Dolce said Jovie’s number “Never Fall in Love with an Elf” is one of his favorites. “What I love about her is that she is this tiny little person and then she comes out in that number and has this amazing voice,” he said.

Other favorites are “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” although he didn’t say it exactly right, by Buddy and the company, “because it is the first big production number.” He also said one of his favorites is “Nobody Cares about Santa Claus,” “because it is a good tap number and a great way to start Act II.

Mr. Dolce said staging Elf has been challenging, especially because it is a blockbuster that has become so popular as a result of the Will Ferrell rendition in the movie.

“It’s difficult. I don’t envy the writers when they are tasked with taking a beloved movie and turning it into a musical. It’s difficult. But, I think they did a great job. I think this works really well, and I think the director, the choreographer and the musical director did a fantastic job with our production,” Mr. Dolce said. “It’s always tough because people come in knowing the movie. It’s the same with A Christmas Story. People know the movie so well. We don’t write it, so we have to work with the material that the Broadway playwrights came up with. So the intention is to try to give as much of the sentiment of the movie as possible.”

With Will Ferrell unavailable to play Buddy at the Engeman, Mr. Dolce said Mr. Gratton is great for the part. “He brings his own honesty and goofiness to it. And we try to make people feel and remember what they knew from the movie with the musical, so that is the challenge every time,” he said.

“This is one of the first holiday shows that we have done that is modern. We have done Miracle on 34th Street, we have done It’s a Wonderful LifeA Christmas Carol and even A Christmas Story is a little bit older. So, this is one of the first ones that we have been able to do that is a little more modern,” Mr. Dolce said. “It’s a different sensibility. I think it definitely hits my generation – the 40s to 60s who grew up with the Will Ferrell movie Elf. So it is nice to be able to do a holiday show that hits the people who grew up with that movie, as opposed to It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, which were a while ago.”

 

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