Elf, the Broadway musical based on the much-loved 2003 film starring Will Ferrell arrives in the West End for Christmas, following a run in Plymouth last year. Any seasonal joy has been somewhat overshadowed by publicity about the high prices being charged for tickets, the most expensive being in excess of £200. And the irony won’t be lost on beleaguered parents, I’m sure, by a show that proffers a message about the true meaning of Christmas while selling expensive programmes and merchandise.
But bad publicity aside, and I must point out that reasonable priced seats are available as well as the premium seats that the newspapers have focused on, does the show provide value for money entertainment-wise?
Anyone who has seen the film will find everything here pleasantly familiar because Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s adaptation pretty much follows the script of the movie, certainly in the first act.
For those who don’t know, however, this is the story of Buddy, played here by Ben Forster, an adult who has been raised by elves in Santa’s grotto at the North Pole. When Buddy discovers he is in fact human he sets off to New York to find his real father. But dad is hard-nosed and stressed out publishing executive Walter Hobbs (played by a rather unconvincing Joe McGann) who has little time for either the sentimentality of the season or a surprise son who thinks he’s an elf.
All around him Buddy encounters a cynical attitude about Christmas that’s at odds with his own sweetly naïve view of things. And that includes emotionally damaged department store worker Jovie, played by Kimberley Walsh with whom Buddy strikes up a friendship.
Ben Forster is totally winning as Buddy and pretty much carries the whole show with his infectious enthusiasm and delightfully comic turn. Incidentally, when Forster finishes his run in Elf, he moves across London to Her Majesty’s Theatre to take over the lead role in Phantom of the Opera —proof, if any were needed, of his versatility.
Kimberley Walsh enhances her musical theatre credentials with a nice turn as Jovie, but I actually felt she was a rather underused and I would have liked to have seen more of her.
Mathew Sklar and Chad Beguelin’s score has a couple of catchy songs but most are functional rather than memorable. And the show only really come to life in the ensemble pieces. With the Dominion being such a large theatre, the smaller scenes lacked the energy to fill the space and as a consequence the whole thing felt a little uneven.
In the end there are few surprises about how things turn out in what is a simple, predictable and undemanding true-meaning-of Christmas tale that’s it’s difficult to be too bah humbug about. It will appeal to family audiences as there are enough knowing references in there for mum and dad and enough knockabout humour and a delightful sleigh ride scene that will appeal to kids of all ages. Elf is far from perfect; good fun in parts rather than a magical experience to really melt the hearts of those with a frosty attitude towards Christmas.
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