Playhouse ‘Elf The Musical’ Survives Lame Script

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio  –– The Youngstown Playhouse is winding up its 97th season with a production of “Elf the Musical” which opened Friday night at the Playhouse Lane theater. With a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin and music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, respectively, the holiday musical is based on the 2003 motion picture “Elf” starring Will Ferrell.

The plot follows Buddy the Elf who stowed away on Santa’s sleigh 30 years prior and was raised by the elves at the North Pole. Finding out that he is not an elf, but in fact a human, Buddy returns to New York City to seek out his father.

What ensues is pure silly humor enhanced by some heartwarming Christmas spirit as we close in on the end of the show. Unfortunately, what cripples the show to a great degree is just a poor script by Meehan and Martin to the point of making it difficult to stay attached to the show. Admittedly, I have never been able to get past the first half-hour of the film and not being a Will Ferrell fan certainly hasn’t helped. But I will say that making the stage production a musical does help detour you away from the lame dialogue. It adds life and makes the evening much more enjoyable than had it been a straight comedy.

Leading the Playhouse cast, as Buddy the Elf, is Playhouse veteran actor, James Major Burns. Burns is fun to watch and is certainly a vast improvement over the stale Will Ferrell in the film. Burns’s Buddy has a wide-eyed innocent excitement that propels him into the hearts of the audience. His energy, stage presence and singing voice add a real likability to the character without venturing into the area of being obnoxious

Another Playhouse veteran, Terry Shears, plays Walter Hobbs, Buddy’s unsuspecting dad and writer of children’s books. Shears gives Hobbs a Scrooge-like demeanor that plays well against the innocence of his elf son. Shears plays the transformation of Hobbs, although sudden, very well in the catchy tune, “The Story of Buddy the Elf.“

Emelia Sherin provides a rough New York exterior to the character of Jovie, who becomes Buddy’s instant love interest. Sherin also provided the show’s choreography. As Jovie she does a decent job of warding off the love sick Buddy with her attitude of “lowering her expectations” so she isn’t disappointed. Her solo number, however, “Never Fall In Love (With an Elf)” seemed out of place and added to perhaps pad time to the show. Sound was also a problem with her mic crackling throughout the song.

Other noteworthy performances were given by David Waldman as Santa Claus who actually launches the audience into the entire story of Buddy. Denise Sculli, known for the zany characters she has created through the years, didn’t disappoint as Deb. Wayne Bonner III shines as the Macy’s store manager and in other smaller roles throughout the show.

Music and lyrics have a holiday feel to them and a bouncy happy beat with highlights being “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” “Nobody Cares About Santa Claus,” and “There Is a Santa Claus.”

Nathan Beagle directed the show with musical direction by Rosie Bresson.

There was a certain lack of polish to the production. Some actors, particularly those not on a mic, dropped ends of lines which made them hard to hear, some spoke so fast that they were done before you knew they had started. But to balance that out, much of the cast was made up of younger kids; some with a smattering of stage experience and others with none. Shows like this is how they get started and how they gain that experience to grow as actors. They were enthusiastic and, for the most part, had energy.

Sound, as mentioned earlier was a problem. From the first scene, when Santa is having a discussion with off-stage elves, the talk was one-sided. Without the elves on mic, they were barely audible. Others on stage, who also were not on mics, were a stark contrast to those wearing mics and very often could not be heard. Those kinds of sound issues are a disservice to both the audience and the actors on stage.

Set design, by Leslie Brown and Sindy Hanna, was minimal and relied on projections of locations mainly in New York. Lighting design by James Oakry was sufficient and costumes by Wendy Akers added a lot of color.

It is good to have the Playhouse back on the mainstage after so long an absence. If you like the film “Elf,” you should have an enjoyable time with “Elf The Musical.” Don’t wait, however, to make reservations. Several performances are already sold out.
“Elf The Musical” will continue:
Sat. Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.; Sun. Dec. 5 at 2:30 p.m.
Fri. Dec. 10, Sat. Dec. 11 at 2:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 12 at 2:30 p.m.

Pictured at top: David Waldman is Santa Claus and Buddy the Elf, is Playhouse veteran actor James Major Burns

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