The best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear! And The Lyric Opera House has boisterous feel-good holiday singing as they usher in this festive season with the touring company of Elf The Musical. Based on the hit holiday movie, this upbeat, refreshing take on the classic debate of belief in Santa Claus will prepare you for the holiday in no time at all. This Broadway Musical has razzle dazzle and the cheer of Christmas packed fully into every moment. The warm and fuzzy feelings are contagious and makes for a fabulous evening for the entire family. Directed by Sam Scalamoni with Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, and Music and Lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, this radiant holiday gem should shoot right to the top of your Christmas list this year.
Scenic Designer Christine Peters captures the essence of a winter wonderland when you first lay eyes upon Christmastown. The whimsy and inspiring awe that is frozen in these wondrous set pieces truly illuminates the magic of the North Pole for kids from ages one to 92! It’s a sight to see, a beautiful spectacle that really encompasses the season of the spirit. Peters even finds the tingling tinsel of the season among the dreary streets of New York City in her design work, coaxing the subtle nuances of good tidings and great joy into the Macy’s department store scene and the ice skating center. Her cityscape work is impressive as well, the buildings have an authentic grimy and looming presence to them while blocking out the sky as they rise well beyond the sightlines. Peters’ designs for the set are the epitome of this amazing heartwarming season.
Adding to the splendor of all the fabulous scenery is Costume Designer Gregg Barnes. Eye-popping colors are reserved for the elves, making a sharp contrast to the more rigid colors found in the heart of the city that never sleeps. Barnes ensures that each and every Santa looks pristine in his velvet red coat, white fur trim and shiny black buckle, but Barnes’ real holiday miracle are the brilliant elven costumes reserved for every member of the cast at the end of the show; each a solid vivacious color suited to their personality, making the show’s finale a visually stunning spectacular.
What Broadway musical would be complete without complexly marvelous dance routines? Created by Choreographer Connor Gallagher, the dancing is sublime; between the elves tap routine during the “Finale” and the swinging jazz routine of the Fake Santas during “Nobody Cares About Santa,” Gallagher has his Broadway basics covered. Gallagher conceptualizes sprightly movements for the routines deigned for Buddy the Elf, making him that much more like his namesake, particularly when he’s leaping and twirling about the stage during “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.” The routine for that number exemplifies the frenetic nature of the holiday spirit in retail shopping and really keeps the audience enthralled as the ‘fake elves decorate Macy’s for Christmas.
There is something to be said for the eagerly enthusiastic ensemble of this production of Elf, always smiling, when appropriate, and filled with the holiday spirit that comes charging out in their voices for big group numbers like “Christmastown” and “The Story of Buddy the Elf.” Featured soloists like Deb (Jacqueline Grabois) and the Macy’s Store Manager (Clyde Voce) have resiliently comic personalities that resonate into their singing, especially during “In the Way” for Grabois and “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” for Voce.
Every holiday show seems to have some family in caught in emotional turmoil and Elf The Musical is no exception. The Hobbs family, at least Emily (Jane Bruce) and Michael (Tyler Altomari) just want to spend more time with their husband and father, Walter (Matthew Alan Smith). Bruce and Altomari share several sweet duets throughout the production, both of their voices strong and serene for “I’ll Believe in You,” carrying hints of bitter-sweetness in the juxtaposition of their optimism and perpetual disappointment. They find rejuvenated spirit when sharing their duet “There Is a Santa Claus” and both performers have exceptionally strong belts in this number.
Smith, as the disgruntled humbugging character who believes the holidays get in the way of work, proves so with his grumbling voice when singing “In The Way,” a song with double meaning for both Christmas and Buddy the Elf. His anger hits peaks higher than the lighted tree in Central Park, but the beauty of a seasonal miracle inspires a change in Smith’s character, turning him from raging corporate tycoon to caring father by the time the show draws a conclusion.
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, why Santa (Gordon Gray) himself appears not only in the story but as the show’s narrator. Gray has a jovial disposition and really lays heavy on the modern references and cultural town-specific locale to engage the audience in his humors. His rich voice is exactly what you’d expect from the singing king of Christmas and although he’s only featured at the beginning of “Christmastown” and briefly during “Nobody Cares About Santa (Reprise)” you’ll know without a doubt that it’s Kris Kringle really popping out those notes.
What Christmas tale would be complete without a little love story to truly reign in the magic of the holiday season? Jovie (Kate Hennies) is a slightly off-kilter oddball character with low expectations in life because it has so often disappointed her. Hennies plays the character with a subtle spunk, making her both comic and depressing all in one go. But when she sings, starting with her jazzy-blues blend during “Never Fall In Love” you’ll easily be blown away by her pure sound and powerful voice. There is a ferocious hidden belt in that number that easily wows the crowd. Hennies does have a dulcet and tender sound when she sings with Buddy in various renditions of “A Christmas Song” and is quirky and delightful when interacting with him in general.
It all comes down to the show’s namesake, Elf. In this case, Buddy the Elf played by the exceptionally talented Matt Kopec. With a jubilant exuberance that knows no bounds, Kopec is the epitome of a child at Christmas, captured in a 6-foot tall adult’s body. The sheer enthusiasm with which he approaches the character is mesmerizingly dizzying; a spastic and wildly entertaining energy that captivates the eyes of all the little children watching. The only thing more stunning than Kopec’s ability to maintain such an energetic character throughout the duration of the show is his phenomenal singing voice. With a belt as strong as 100 Santas and a sound as crystal clear as snowflakes, Kopec is a true sensation. Elation has never been so explosive as it is when Kopec jumps into “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.” He also maintains a keen sense of other emotions, like the hints of trepidation and uncertainty that populate “World’s Greatest Dad” when he sets out from the North Pole. Overall Kopec is a true Christmas celebration, in voice, body, and personality; the best gift to this show anyone could ask for.
It won’t be in town long, but there’s still time for you to believe in Santa Claus and experience the wonderful magic that is Christmas time. Be sure to get your tickets to see Elf before Buddy bounds back up to the North Pole!
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Elf The Musical plays through tomorrow, November 24, 2013 at The Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric — 110 West Mount Royale Avenue, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call (410) 900-1150, or purchase them online.
Elf The Musical website.