I have never seen the Will Farrell movie, Elf. I’m not a person who enjoys the “holidays,” as a matter of fact I have been called a Scrooge and a Grinch. I was skeptical about seeing Elf the Musical now playing at Syracuse Stage. But my heart grew several sizes larger after seeing this excellently produced holiday musical.
In a prologue a wry Santa Claus (Jayson Elliot) reads a story from a book to the audience, about Buddy the Elf. We then find Buddy, in Christmastown at the North Pole, gleefully oblivious to the fact that he isn’t an elf, at all, but he is a human, actually a 30 year old 6’2 man. The height deferential is obvious in the hysterical, ingenious number called “Christmastown.” The night I saw Elf The Musical, an actual understudy, Caleb James Grochalski played Buddy. Grochalski is a student (senior) at Syracuse University’s drama department and he is fantastic. Infused with eternal optimism and boy like wonder, Grochalski is completely relaxed on stage and in the part, belying his young years. He is an irrepressible bundle of joy who never falters in his sunny, playful outlook on life. Mark my words, Caleb James has a long, and interesting career ahead of him. When Buddy sets out to find his real father Walter Hubbs (Aloysius Gigl) who is a millionaire publishing executive in New York City, the adventure begins.
There isn’t a glitch in the entire cast: principals and swing. They are near perfect and Jessica Ford’s costumes are so good, that it is difficult to recognize ensemble actors from song to song, of course it helps that they trans from scene to scene, effortlessly. Sophomore Rachel Mracna plays love interest Jovie, a cynical big city girl, who finds herself inexplicably drawn to Buddy. She is very good, and embodies effortlessly a character that is much older than she is.
I have seen Donna Drake’s work several times before and the talented director once again shines, as she makes all the right choices. Even though this musical isn’t a “dance heavy” musical, I particularly loved the dance numbers. Often in regional theater it is difficult to cast great dancers, because it’s not Manhattan, but Drake and choreographer Brian J. Marcum execute great dance sequences here. A highlight of the show is the dancing Santas in “Nobody Cares about Santa Clause.” It’s a real hoot.
Everyone involved in this production deserves Kudos, including Scenic designer Czerton Lim and Projection Designer Katherine Freer. This is an infectious, joyous, vibrant production that will lift the spirits of every Ebenezer or Grinch in the audience. Be sure to see it before it closes on January 6.