Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Elf

Book: Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin; music Matthew Sklar; lyrics Chad Beguelin
Theatre Royal Plymouth
The Lowry
24 November 2017 to 14 January 2018

Based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell – now something of an every-Christmas-since-and-for-always family TV hit – this super-spectacular festive eyeful got off to a mixed start when it first made the West End a couple of years ago, not so much because of the show itself - which mostly got middling reviews - but because it notoriously set new record highs for ticket prices and got panned for doing so.

Resurrected now for the Christmas season at The Lowry, still starring ITV Superstar winner Ben Forster, and at The Lowry’s far more wallet-friendly prices, for my money it's one of the most scenically impressive, lavishly presented family entertainment packages you are ever likely to see this side of the North Pole.

Story-wise it sticks pretty closely to the film. Buddy, a large green, apparently elf, is in fact a human who works in Santa’s Grotto. He’s there because when he was a baby Buddy sneaked into Santa’s sack when Santa visited Buddy’s New York orphanage and was mistakenly taken back to the North Pole where he was raised by the worker elves.

Now, Buddy’s size and poor toy-making abilities at last lead him to realise the truth and with Santa’s permission he sets off to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity and help America remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Ahh!

Yes, the season of good will is coming up but you may find you need to make a few allowances here to get into the spirit of things.

The book isn’t bad but it is stodgy and really should have had some cuts (and it has too many obscure Americanisms).

The extremely well behaved kids around us on opening night will probably be pretty typical of future audiences in that they clearly found long stretches, of the first half in particular, quite boring and in fact I’m with them on that.

The score is generic jazzy Broadway, a sort of cut and paste concoction of virtually every song-and-dance-style Great White Way show you’ve ever heard of, not Christmasey and not charming in any way either.

Like the book, it lacks inspiration. Even when the whole company get going, hoofing and tapping for all they’re worth - selling it to the max - and the tracer lights blaze and the extra bits of scenery fly in…it still doesn’t raise the roof.

As I say, it does look great – bags and bags of scenery, with a clever combination of projected landscapes and cityscapes and 3D flying to produce some cutting-edge effects. The finale in fact, which I won’t describe here, you may well feel is worth the ticket price in itself and will definitely send you out humming the sets.

It is also very strongly cast. Forster is excellent, with a singing voice that easily copes with all demands and he delivers the jokes with a winning deadpan innocence. It’s very much a close replica of Ferrell’s performance in the film but if you know the film that’s probably what you want and if you don’t it’s fine anyway.

Joe McGann, as Buddy’s irritable and reluctant real life father, reprises his West End performance and is something of luxury casting. I also very much like former Atomic Kitten Liz McClarnon as love interest Jovie, whose solo proves she should have been given more to do.

The band, under MD Jeremy Wootton, is one of the very best I’ve ever heard in these circumstances, tremendous stuff from the point of view of technique, really, really excellent.

So, unlike the West End show, in my opinion very good value for money for a very high class production but a pity the content isn’t just a little more inspirational.

Reviewer: Alan Hulme

Comments

Comment by David Cunningham

This is indeed a high quality production with a very strong central performance. It seems strange, however, that having gone to so much trouble the producers stint on the vital element of sentiment. Festive shows are known for being tear-jerkers but it is very late into the second Act before Elf starts to make any effort to move, rather than dazzle, the audience.  

Comment by Georgina Wells

I agree with Alan - this is a visually spectacular show with enjoyable (if not particularly memorable) song and dance routines, but the main issue is the lengthy and occasionally awkward passages of dialogue that make the show overly long.

I was also really blown away by the band, and particularly enjoyed conductor Jeremy Wootton's cameo as the narwhal from the orchestra pit!

Comment by Diana Stenson

I have never see the film and grateful for that so no festive expectations.

'Elf' is a daft story but it is a fun experience and grows on you with touching moments and sentimental American spirit. There is plenty of showy musical rythmn for foot-tapping but surprisingly the musical score is short on melody changes - each number sounding much the same as the previous - no applications here for the GASB - Great American SongBook.

Fell for the Manager of Macy's Toy Dept. (Graham Lappin) who tap-tapped himself into a riotous dance routine with his Christmas staff. Agree with Alan that Liz McClaren (Elf's love interest) has bags of talent and with her voice and charm could tackle a yet more rewarding role along with toy shop helper and skating in wintry Central Park.