Elf the Musical at the Chemainus Theatre Festival. A review.

Elf the Musical at the Chemainus Theatre Festival November 20-December 31, 2015. A review.

Christmas classics have a long and rich history in the North American canon. From time to time, a relative newcomer takes everyone by surprise. The 2003 film Elf (featuring Will Ferrell in the title role) is much-loved for its gangly central character who never seems to quite fit in. Adapting the film for Broadway, veterans Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan wrote the book (with score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin) and Elf, the Musical premiered in 2010.

Contrasting light, bright and happy versus gloomy and cynical), Elf The Musical contains magical elements of childishness and sincerity pitted against a growing spirit of “bah-humbug” that make it a perfect story for children (of all ages) and grown-ups alike.

Orphaned at a young age, Buddy (Andrew Cohen) manages to crawl into Santa’s (Hal Kerbes) toy bag one Christmas night and is transported to the North Pole where he remains for 30 years, until his size becomes an issue in the work room. Discouraged and disheartened after learning the true story of his origins, he strikes out on his own to find his real father in New York.

Santa and Buddy Elf the Musical CHemainus
Hal Kerbes as Santa and Andrew Cohen as Buddy. Photo: Cim MacDonald

Cohen’s height makes the illusion of an over-grown and naïve adult elf even more powerful, particularly in Santa’s workshop, while his expressive face and cute antics inspire chuckles. Right from the opening number (Happy All the Time) with a light-footed and effervescent company (choreography Jessica Hickman) the feel-good tone is set. Despite whatever challenges may come, ultimately the audience knows in its heart that Buddy will prevail.

Inspired by the snow globe of New York (a gift from Santa as Buddy begins his journey), set designer Drew Facey has created rounded rolling screens for the story’s settings—the North Pole, toy workshop, Macy’s, Greenway Press, the Hobbs’ apartment, Rockefeller Centre and a Chinese Restaurant on Christmas Eve—scene of the memorable and bluesy Nobody Cares About Santa, featuring a jaded kick-line of Santas.

Costumes (also Facey) range from the holiday atmosphere of Santa’s workshop where bright blues, reds and yellows predominate to the work-a-day world of Buddy’s dad Walter, a curmudgeonly and over-worked Timothy E Brummund, with sweater vests and suits in subdued tones.

Elf the Musical Greeway Publishing
Back Row Left to Right: Sarina Sorensen, Sarah Carlé, Scott Carmichael, Scott Walters, Erik Gow, Timothy E. Brummund
Front Left to Right: Kate Blackburn, Andrew Cohen, Ben Williams, Richard McBride
Photo by Cim MacDonald

Music director Brad L’Écuyer (keys) helms a tight trio of talented musicians (Nico Rhodes-woodwinds and keys-and Alicia Murray-drums) who produce a lush sound (designer Paul Tedeschini) typically associated with much larger bands or orchestras. Ensemble members add a razz-a-ma-tazz touch to one of the final numbers A Christmas Song with additional brass instruments.

Part of the enduring appeal of a story like Elf is a silly (and simple) premise that gives adults permission to revel, once again, in child-like goofiness. Despite Buddy’s natural misunderstandings and missteps, sarcastic employees like Deb (Kate Blackburn in a marvellous cameo) and the manager (Scott Walters) can’t stand-up to his unrelenting cheerfulness. In any good story of adversity, there is a love interest; Alison MacDonald perfectly captures Jovie’s disillusionment and her conflicted feelings—about Christmas, and about Buddy (Never Fall in Love With an Elf).

Brummund is both bombastic and curmudgeonly as Walter Hobbs, Buddy’s dad, his splendid deep bass rounding out songs like In the Way. Sarah Carlé as Emily Hobbs, Walter’s wife, and Ben Williams as younger son Michael, bear the brunt of his work-a-holic lifestyle. Carlé and Williams (alternating with Reuben Broadway in the role) make a tender mother-son duo on two of the show’s most heart-felt songs (I’ll Believe in You and There is A Santa Claus).

Lighting (Rebekah Johnson) sparkles, twinkles and softens delightfully as snow falls.

Director Mark DuMez captures the essence of the holidays; Elf the Musical is endearing, with plenty of movement, action and catchy songs to keep even young children rapt throughout two hours of performance. It’s a perfect way for multi-generational families to spend time together, get in the Christmas spirit and introduce youngsters to musical theatre.

Elf: The Musical, directed by Mark DuMez
Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin
Music by Matthew Sklar Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Based on the New Line Cinema film written by David Berenbaum
Chemainus Theatre Festival
November 20-December 31, 2015
Tickets $25-$65 (Chemainus Theatre Festival practices dynamic ticket pricing)

Production Team

Director Mark DuMez
Musical Director Brad L’Écuyer
Set/Costume Designer Drew Facey
Lighting Designer Rebekah Johnson
Sound Designer Paul Tedeschini
Stage Manager Liz King
App. Stage Manager Claire Friedrich

Cast (alphabetically)

Buddy Andrew Cohen
Deb Kate Blackburn
Emily Hobbs Sarah Carlé
Jovie Alison MacDonald
Walter Hobbs Timothy E Brummund
Michael Hobbs Reuben Broadway/Ben Williams
Ensemble Scott Carmichael
Ensemble Erik Gow
Santa Claus Hal Kerbes
Ensemble Richard McBride
Ensemble Sarina Sorensen
Manager/Mr Greenway Scott Walters


Brad L’Écuyer
Alicia Murray
Nico Rhodes

Dislaimer: We attended Elf, the Musical as guests of The Chemainus Theatre Festival.

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