Ok, before this review can even begin, I need to take a moment and stop grinning like a buffoon.
That goes for everyone walking out of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of “Elf the Musical.” Resident director Nicole Capri has concocted a show that leaves audiences giddy, dazzled and holiday punch-drunk.
The story starts out much like its namesake with Buddy the Elf (spoiler alert: not an elf) loving life at the North Pole, but struggling to fit in. Cue the legion of dancing elves. Played by local children, the elves steal the audience’s hearts so fast, it almost isn’t fair.
The same could be said for Buddy, played by Ethan Paulini. From the moment he hops out of bed, Paulini’s wide-eyed and cheerful optimism makes it perfectly easy to slip on Buddy’s rose-colored glasses and see the world through a candy cane lens, no questions asked.
Buddy heads to New York City to track down his father Walter Hobbs, portrayed by David Hess. Hilarity of course ensues as Buddy encounters all sorts of shenanigans, including true love and real heartbreak, and ends up facing the mammoth task of saving Christmas.
Speaking of true love, the object of Buddy’s candy-coated affection is Jovie, the cynic who doesn’t sing and lacks a certain seasonal spirit. It is truly a shame that she doesn’t sing for half the show, because Alyssa Gorgone’s voice is out of this world.
A factor I respect very much is the uniqueness of the whole production. It would have been easy for Paulini and Gorgone to do impressions of Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel for a couple of hours, but I can do that in my mirror at home. Yes, it is based on the movie and follows the same major plot line, but this is “Elf the Musical.” Even better, it’s The Rep’s production of “Elf the Musical.”
Don’t worry, Buddy still loves syrup and he still tells a department store Santa he smells like beef and cheese. However, don’t be surprised when there are richer and fuller character stories and relationships. The familial chemistry between Buddy’s stepmom (Anna Lise Jensen) and stepbrother (10-year-old Price Clark) was incredible and a true joy to watch, even when they offered up a few unexpected tearjerker moments.
The show really allows a few stories to get the time they deserve, like Jason Samuel as the Macy’s manager as he declines into Christmas madness, or Walter’s secretary Deb, who, in the hands of Tessa Faye, just may have become my favorite character.
More is more, and that means more to love about this over-the-top production. The costumes, the sets, the music, the ensemble all offered up more than I was expecting, and my expectations were pretty high, if we’re being honest. Capri’s decision to cast children as the elves meant more work, but it definitely payed off. Even details like well-dressed businesswomen rushing through the streets of New York in white tennis shoes had me laughing out loud and enjoying the experience even more.
So I’m going to make this part simple: Do not miss this show.
If you’re not a total Scrooge and happen to enjoy things like laughter and Christmas cheer, join the hundreds who have gone before you and go grin like a buffoon at The Rep’s “Elf the Musical.”
The show runs until Jan. 4. For showtimes and more information about the play, or to purchase tickets online, visit The Rep’s website. You can also call (501) 378-0405 or visit the theatre box office downtown at 601 Main St., Little Rock.