BY SANDY STAGGS
In the spirit of A Miracle on 34th Street, Elf: The Musical at Greenville Theatre will leave you believing in Santa Claus anew!
With at least three productions of Elf: The Musical softening hearts and wallets across the Upstate as we usher in the season of giving, Carolina Curtain Call set up a writer’s workshop in the North Pole this weekend for dispatches about the latest entry in new holiday theatre.
Based on the 2003 hit movie Elf, the breakout role for Will Farrell, the musical playing now at Greenville Theatre is loosely the same story but leans closer to a “G” rating than the film’s “PG” label and appropriate for most family members.
With music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, Elf: The Musical as a musical is not the most memorable (there are a few gems like “Christmastown,” “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” and “Nobody Cares About Santa”), but boy oh boy what a bountiful and entertaining presentation under the direction of the company’s new Producing Artistic Director Max Quinlan.
The audience is greeted by a mammoth Etch A Sketch and video screen that serves as backdrops for all of the scenes as set pieces move on and off stage at a well-heeled pace. Hats off to Scenic Designer Suzanne McCalla, Technical Director Graham Shaffer, and Lighting and Sound Designer Cory Granner for a gorgeous, innovative and beautifully lighted vision from trap door to proscenium. This is the second production that Greenville Theatre has raised the bar on video technology after A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.
Buddy, the human raised as an elf in search of his real father, is magnificently portrayed by the company’s frequent leading man Carter Allen, fresh off a glorious turn as Leo Bloom in The Producers. Agile, nuanced and balancing naivete with skilled musical theatre bravado, Allen shoulders the success or failure of this pristine extravaganza, and he sells it by the sleigh-full in tunes like “World’s Greatest Dad.”
The musical is narrated by Santa – the great Rod McClendon at his warmest and wittiest – instead of the Bob Newhart character (who us totally eliminated in the stage version). Doubling as Mrs. Claus and the role of secretary Deb is the always-engrossing actor Kristi Parker Byers.
Buddy’s new family includes his dad Walter Hobbs on Santa’s Naughty List, the marvelous Rick Connor who lends a gentle, hapless demeanor here as his character is not as unscrupulous in the stage version, GT veteran Meg Foster as wife Emily Hobbs, and the magnificent young actor, 10-year-old Matthew Molina as Matthew Hobbs, the half-brother.
Buddy’s love interest Jove (Zooey Dechanel in the film) is played by the talented new company member Adell Ehrhorn in a sweet, amiable performance, and a pleasing rendition of the ballad “Never Fall in Love.”
Rounding out the cast is John Garrison as the Macy’s Store Manager, the incomparable Bruce Meahl as boss Mr. Greenway.
Besides Allen, it’s the nimble ensemble that does the smashing leg work in this show: Andrew Anderson, Loren Clark, Cody Cobb, Abby Kohake, Latreshia Lilly, Jamie Riedy, Julia Tobin, Mitchell Smith, and Jamie Ann Walters.
From the brilliant opening number “Christmastown” with all of them dancing and strutting on their knees as tiny elves (the King in “Shrek” comes to mind), the fancy footwork in Elf’s version of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” – “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” – and the hilarious “Nobody Cares About Santa” with nine frustrated, dancing Santas. All of this under the stupendous tutelage of Michael McCrary in his first GT gig as choreographer, after assisting and playing the choreographer in The Producers.
Elf: The Musical featuresmusic direction by Victoria Bess Adams and costumes by Thomas Brooks.
Production Stage Manager is Larry Hyder and Stage Manager is Jonathan Kilpatrick.
Elf: The Musical continues at Greenville Theatre at 444 College Street in Greenville through December 19. For tickets visit https://www.greenvilletheatre.org/ or call the box office at (864) 233-6238.