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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

I'm an orphan just like Annie. — Buddy

L - R - Paul C. Vogt and James Moye (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)
Elf , the 2003 film starring Saturday Night Live comedian Will Ferrell as a thirty year old human who was raised by Santa and his helpers to believe he was an elf, if an overgrown one at over six feet tall, has become a cult classic. Adapted as a musical for the stage by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, it ran on Broadway in 2010 ( my review- with song list ) and 2012, each time staying for the duration of the holiday seasons. This New Jersey premiere of a newly envisioned Elf, under the direction of Seattle native Eric Ankrim originated at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle.

Elf may not be one of the best adaptations from film to stage, and it most certainly isn't a great or even a very good musical. However, if you leave the theater without a smile on your face and feeling good for having been there then there is something seriously wrong with you. For whatever reason, almost everything that I perceived was wrong and had rubbed me the wrong way with the show the first time around needs to be reconsidered.

As close to a perfect holiday attraction for the whole family as one can get (barring the obligatory resurrections across the continent of A Christmas Carol, Elf has a story that just doesn't place any value on being credible on any level, but it embraces its aspirations and all of its absurdities to the fullest. I admit to feeling a bit foolish in reversing my first opinion, yet I can see how the current production has worked its joy-filled magic. In every way, this staging and the performances surpass the 2010 show that I reviewed for CurtainUp.

A main part of my enjoyment and my involvement this time comes from the honest sincerity that can be seen as well as sensed by the goofy almost giddy actions of James Moye as the naive and incurably optimistic Buddy. Moye, a North Bergen, N.J. native with numerous Broadway credits, is a charmer. He's a fine singer who effortlessly dominates the musical as we follow his endearingly awkward attempt to unite with his human family in New York City. Another plus is the stringent performance by veteran, award-winning Broadway performer Robert Cuccioli as Walter Hobbs who amusingly completes his task to get off of Santa's naughty list for being a mean-spirited executive in a children's book publishing company as well as an uninvolved parent.

Helping him to achieve his role as a caring and loving head of the household with gusto are Heidi Blickenstaff as his determined wife and the terrific young actor-singer Jake Faragalli as their son Michael. Other standouts are DeMone as the confounded manager the North Pole department at Macy's; Jessica Sheridan as the Mr. Hobb's bubbly secretary and Kate Fahrner as the pretty Macy employee whose resistant heart is ready to be softened by Buddy.

While none of the songs stand out, they do compliment the silly business, and there is lots of it along with the musical's sentimental side. Book-ended by a jolly story-telling, joke-propelled Santa (an exuberantly jolly Paul C Vogt), this production doesn't cheat on spectacle: Santa in his sleigh flying high over Central Park, the chaos created by Buddy in Macy's toy department, the elegance of the skaters in the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, and the interior of a Chinese restaurant where eight weary Santas have gathered for dinner and for a little tap dancing on the side. Choreographer Josh Rhodes'dances are distinguished by their effervescence and without being show-offy. For show-offy we love the shower of snowflakes that brings this funny and fantastical musical to a close.

Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin
Music by Matthew Sklar and Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Direction by Eric Ankrim
Choreography by Josh Rhodes
Cast: Paul C. Vogt (Santa), Madge Dietrich (Mrs. Claus), James Moye (Buddy), Michael DiLiberto (Charlie), Alicia Charles (Shawanda), Robert Cuccioli (Walter Hobbs), Michael Coale Grey (Sam), Patrick O'Neill (Matthews), Michael DiLiberto (Chadwick), Heidi Blickenstaff (Emily), Jake Faragalli (Michael), Jessica Sheridan (Deb), DeMone (Macy's Manager), Kate Fahrner (Jovie), Michael Fatica (Fake Santa), Patrick O'Neill, Michael Di Liberto (Policemen), Cleve Asbury (Mr. Greenway), Heather Parcells (Charlotte Dennon)
Scenic Design: Matthew Smucker
Costume Design: David C. Woolard
Lighting Design: Charlie Morrison
Sound Design: Randy Hanson
Production Stage Manager: Gary Mickelson Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J. (212) 239- 6200
Tickets $28 - $99
Previews began 11/26/14
Opened 11/30/14
Ends 01/04/14
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 1l/30/14
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