Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Theater Review: Elf

Elf photo by Joan Marcus.

An Old-Fashioned Musical with Fun for the Whole(some) Family
By Lauren Yarger
While this version, like the film, isn’t quite as funny as you might hope and Buddy (Sebastian Arcelus), a human raised by Santa (George Wendt) and his elves at the North Pole, isn’t quite as silly as he could be, Broadway’s staging of the hit film Elf (the movie stars Will Ferrell) does offer an old-fashioned, colorful holiday musical with a few laughs for the adults and a plot pleasantly devoid of the major angst so common in modern children’s entertainment.

In Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s book Buddy discovers why he’s not skilled at toy making and why he towers over the other elves: he’s not one of them. He sets out for New York to find his human father, Walter Hobbs (Mark Jacoby), a publishing executive whose work stress doesn’t leave much time for wife, Emily (Beth Leavel) or son, Michael (Matthew Chumley). Buddy also finds romance with a glum department store elf, Jovie (Amy Spanger). Can Buddy help everyone find Christmas spirit again? Santa’s sleigh might not fly without it.

The tale of Buddy’s quest to fit in and the family’s acceptance of the innocent, sugar-loving, snow-throwing, trouble-causing human-elf unfolds on elaborate colorful sets (David Rockwell, design) with animated projections (Zachary Boroway, design) that give the production the look of a storybook come to life. Director Casey Nicholaw’s fun choreography, Gregg Barnes’ festive costumes and Matthew Skylar’s big-band score with wonderful orchestrations by Doug Besterman, complete an entertaining show that little ones will enjoy. The catchy songs help sustain the plot, though about 20 minutes easily could be cut to shorten the two-and-a-half-hour run time.

The story is entirely predictable, the lyrics (Chad Beguelin) are simple and the humor doesn’t get you laughing out loud much, but it will make you smile in places. It is, after all, a kids’ show and it is really nice to enjoy one without having to encounter some super villain or demonically powered character for a change. Here, the biggest fears come from things like whether the dad will lose his job, whether he’ll be mad when Buddy makes a mistake and whether the mom and dad will get divorced or stop their arguing -- real situations kids have to deal with every day, unfortunately, and to which they can relate.

The show plays a holiday run at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, 302 West 45th St., NYC through Jan. 2. For tickets, visit telecharge.com.

Christians might also like to know:
-- God’s name taken in vain
-- Some sexual references in the dialogue
-- Language
-- I would give it a PG rating.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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