Toby’s is not wasting any time getting this summer started in ultra high gear, decking its halls and spreading holiday cheer six months early this year with its long-anticipated production of Elf the Musical.
Brilliantly directed and fantastically choreographed by Mark Minnick, in tandem with the acute artistic direction of Toby Orenstein, Elf was first intended to open last November and run through the winter season, but this spectacularly imaginative show makes clear that celebrating Christmas with an exceptionally talented troupe can be successfully achieved in any time of year, complete with a bountiful buffet and a special signature cocktail/mocktail.
Adapted from the popular 2003 comedy film starring Will Ferrell, Elf the Musical follows a young orphan named Buddy (Jeffrey Shankle), who is accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood by Santa’s (Decarlo Raspberry) elves. As he grows up considerably taller than the elves and is unable to meet the elves’ toy-making quotas, Buddy can’t seem to shake the feeling that he doesn’t quite fit in, so, with Santa’s blessing, he travels to New York City to find his birth father, Walter Hobbs (David Bosley-Reynolds).
Shankle shakes, shimmers, and shines in his portrayal of Buddy the Elf. His performance is impeccably spot on: everything about his delivery from his voice, which radiates warmth, genuine innocence, and pure wonderment, to his animated movement and magnetic energy is captivating from the moment he takes the stage. His rendering of “World’s Greatest Dad” well showcases his versatile tone and dynamic vibe.
Likewise, Raspberry is sensational in his dual roles as Santa and Macy’s manager; he is equally convincing playing both characters. He is jovial and heartwarming as Santa, and distinctively hilarious and corporate-focused, manning the “North Pole” on the store sales front, too. His vocal range, with noteworthy modulations, is attention-grabbing and impressive, as featured in “Nobody Cares About Santa Claus” and the opener with Shankle: “Happy All the Time.”
MaryKate Brouillet is lovely as Buddy’s immediate romantic interest, Jovie, a striking Macy’s employee he meets while briefly “working” its North Pole section. Brouillet’s solo, “Never Fall in Love (With an Elf)” is poignant and witty. Brouillet adds a readily identifiable air of NYC moxie to her performance,which nicely enhances Jovie’s authenticity.
As Buddy’s family, Bosley-Reynolds gives a polished performance as the dad to both Buddy and Michael (Luka Van Herksen), as does Janine Sunday as his no-nonsense but charmingly refined and affable wife, Emily. Sunday and Van Herksen are superb in their delightful delivery of “I’ll Believe in You” and in “There Is a Santa Claus.” The bond and affection between them as mother and son who have been abandoned by Walter, a workaholic, are palpable.
Kalen Robinson brings a great exuberance to her roles Mrs. Claus and Deb. She takes center stage with zest and delivers with a commanding vocal range, as does the rest of the top-notch ensemble: Justin Calhoun and Shane Lowry are true to form as the overwhelmed employees of Walter Hobbs, Chadwick and Matthews, respectively. Each member of the seasoned cast, including David James as Mr. Greenway/Charlie, Alexis Krey as Tiara, Crystal Freeman as Macy’s Saleswoman, AJ Whittenberger as Jim/Boy, and Patricia Targete as Charlotte/Waitress, is outstanding, especially in the opening number when they play Santa’s colorful elves with their smartly equipped carts (sheer genius!).
Cleverly staged, masterfully designed, and meticulously lighted with seamless sound and scene transitions throughout (kudos to scenic and lighting designer David A. Hopkins, conductor Nathan Scavilla, musical director Ross Scott Rawlings, sound designer John Pantazis, and Janine Sunday pulling double duty as costume coordinator). Toby’s Elf the Musical should be on everyone’s bucket list of shows to see this summer: an early Christmas gift for theater lovers of all ages!
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.
Elf the Musical runs through August 22, 2021, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. Tickets can be purchased directly through the box office by calling 410-730-8311. To purchase tickets online, visit Ticketmaster.com.