Lordy do I want to sit on the big guy’s lap and get a big sack of treats now. It’s only the beginning of November but watching Broadway’s latest export, Elf it may as well be frigging Christmas Eve. Eeeee!
Based on the 2003 film, starring Will Ferrell and New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel, the musical started life on Broadway in 2010, running during both that year’s Christmas period, as well as the next. After much hype and just a little bit of controversy over ticket prices, it jingles into London until early January. With the very familiar theme of acquiring ‘names’ to play a show’s leads, it’s bound to follow the success generated in the States and be the big festive event everyone is talking about. So what’s it like?
Fans of the film will, I’m sure be expecting a huge snowball of silliness and Morgan Young’s production does not disappoint. Often this brand of humour can unintentionally cross over into farce and become a big tangled mess that leaves audiences completely confused but Elf has just the right balance to appeal to kids, their parents and the three drunken girls in Row P who insist on clapping along to every tune.
Mark McKerracher’s Santa leads us in with some light and relatable jokes and the ‘elves’ are played by an ensemble who shuffle around on knees fitted into shoes. The latter isn’t the most original idea but squeezes out plenty of guffaws whenever they appear. Ben Forster fully encompasses the role with much of the humour exuding from Buddy; a completely ridiculous but endlessly endearing man-child. His command of the stage and chemistry with his younger step-brother, Michael (the fantastic Ewan Rutherford), Mother Hobbs (Jessica Martin) and father (Joe McGann) is absolutely absorbing. There are also some very touching and gleeful moments with PA, Deb (Jennie Dale) that will win over every Scrooge going into this with pre-judgements.
Matthew Sklar’s score isn’t the most memorable but, as is generally with the whole of Elf, it gets better and better. ‘I’ll Believe in You’ is very, very festive and a delightful moment between Michael and his mother. Kimberley Walsh’s ‘Never Fall in Love (with an Elf)’ gives the Girls Aloud-er a moment to shine and her vocals are top notch. Appearing on stage much less than I expected, Walsh still delivers Jovie, albeit with less conviction than I feel comfortable with. It’s hard to star opposite such a tremendous powerhouse as Forster is here, and whilst it’s clear she is doing her best, sometimes that just isn’t strong enough.
Tim Goodchild’s set starts off a tad amateur with projections highlighting the rear of the stage that are just that bit too cheesy and single scenery pieces travelling along, the stage void of anything else but black. It doesn’t exactly scream West-End spectacle. However the game is momentously upped and upped with some truly wonderful aesthetics until an exquisite finale.
Whilst unlikely to be the best piece of musical theatre to grace the West-End, Elf does not disappoint. It looks delicious, and Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s book is effortlessly endearing with Forster completely making the role his own. Rutherford is one of the best young performers I have seen and Dale’s hot chocolate shenanigans are just delightful. Christmas may still seem far away but plonking yourself in front of this will certainly make it feel that much closer.