It’s hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since the hit movie Elf, starring Will Ferrell, was released and became a quick classic. The movie is such a favorite that, unsurprisingly, it has been turned into a musical by the same name, onstage now at Durham Performing Arts Center under the direction of Sam Scalamoni.
For those not familiar with the fun story, it follows Buddy the Elf…or at least Buddy who think he’s an Elf. Long ago, baby Buddy, left in an orphanage after the death of his mother, wandered into Santa’s sack. After accidentally being transported back to the North Pole, he was raised with the elves and spent the first thirty years of his life thinking he was one of them. The adventure truly begins, however, when Buddy learns the truth about his identity and goes on a quest to New York City to find his biological father.
DPAC’s production brings this charming story to vibrant life. Featuring a funny Santa Claus (Mark Fishback) as the narrator, viewers are quickly transported to a magical representation of the North Pole. Complete with joyful, colorful elves and fancy dance numbers choreographed by Connor Gallagher, this North Pole is exactly the way kids (and kids at heart!) imagine it.
The North Pole isn’t the only beautiful representation within the production either. Christine Peters’ whimsical set design brings to life the bustling streets of New York City, features a cool replica of the Empire State Building, and even includes Rockefeller Center (complete with ice skaters). The transitions into each setting happen quickly and effortlessly, adding to the magical element of the show.
Also magical here are the performances, particularly that of Eric Williams in the title role. Williams gives a sassy, sweet, and wonderfully innocent portrayal of Buddy that is surprisingly believable and totally endearing. His delivery is always perfect, and Williams shares great chemistry with Paloma D’Auria’s Jovie, the Macy’s department store “elf” Buddy meets in the big city.
Other standouts in the cast include Grady Miranda as young Michael Hobbs, Buddy’s brother. Miranda has a powerful voice and all the charm one demands of a child actor. He is backed by Caitlin Lester-Sams’ sweet portrayal of his mother. John Adkison plays off the pair well in his role as Walter Hobbs, Buddy and Michael’s father. Adkison isn’t afraid to make his character tough and gruff, which makes his change of heart near the end all the more endearing.
The script makes minor changes from the film, all of which serve to compartmentalize the action and add in time for musical numbers. And, the added-in songs are definitely worth any cuts to the story. Every song is fun and engaging, especially the second act’s large-scale performance of “The Story of Buddy the Elf,” which features some of the production's best choreography.
Anyone who loves the film or, really, anyone who loves Christmas and Christmas stories should have a blast with this production. As sweet as Santa himself, it’s a great holiday hit for the whole family!
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