The 2003 holiday film classic returns to London in this lavish musical adaptation all the way from the North Pole. Guillermo Názara reviews the show’s comeback to the West End, to let us know if this is the kind of treat suitable for the good or the naughty.
The only thing anywhere comparable to this holiday’s money-craving overload is the uncountable amount of films currently featuring the “The Musical” surname in their titles. From inevitable adaptations (a movie starring Whitney Houston in the role of a pop idol can only assume its fate) to topics you’d never dream (or delude) of as suitable for this genre, there seems to be some concerning unoriginality when it comes to choosing a topic to transform into onstage song and dance. Being a born passionate of this style of entertainment (almost -only for reassurance- scraping the line of OCD), one can’t help but letting the frustration causing his anger out (as if it was the sole reason for it…) by asking the same feversih question every time he has the chance… or even if he hasn’t: why can’t a show just stand by its name alone, instead of suckling from its predecessor’s success as some sort of lower class subtype?
Both the West End and Broadway have been cramped (in all the senses of the word) with this kind of rubbish – its problem stemming from a creative team that not only does not care about the quality of the piece but also does not give a damn about it – to avoid a more precise term. Hence, productions studded with catchy but unnecessary and frequently boring numbers, a shallow, incohesive and, let’s say it, pathetic book and, overall, a tired narrative and a complete lack of storytelling skills have been lurking on the now international scene to the point of raising all the alarms and prompting its most devoted audience to demonstration (well, at least the online kind).
Elf has every single one of these components to be branded as a new fresh (no pun intended) addition to the outlawed group. A direct remake of the 2003 silver-screen Christmas tale starring Will Ferrell, the show is basically the same thing just thick-coated in a sugary layer of cheery music and light-hearted lyrics. Everything’s happy (seriously, that’s what the opening is all about), everything is season adequate – a trait that a critic might as well enjoy, though, as a mischievous opportunity to show their teeth and sink them into a bittersweet pie of bitchy hostility… except for the fact that those little naughty boys (I suppose I can’t use the word bastard to review a family musical… oops) managed to do it quite close to perfect…
However banal or promotional it may sound (funny how usually both terms work in conjunction), the thing is that there really seems to be a Holiday spirit – and there’s even less doubt that at least a part of it (a big one, though) is inhabiting this show. A splendid explainer of the word ‘extravaganza’, the production is an explosion of both visual and sound spectacularity, featuring a simple yet charming and sometimes impressive score, tastefully written lyrics, very good pacing and enticing sets. In a time when the use of screens and projections are slapping traditional physical props out of the picture, Elf is however no exception, but cleverly balances it out by restraining it just to its backdrops. Even though the animations utilized on them could benefit from more intricacy, the many other wow factors and a couple of quite compelling surprises regarding its scenery totally make up for it, resulting in the goosebumpy effect only achieved by those moments magical enough to let your confined child wonder shiver down your body.
The same recognition is to be given to its cast – or more precisely, their engagement to the work. It’s not that they are talented, it’s not that they can deliver the work well (yes, cast member reading this (I hope you are!), you also do – don’t panic), it’s their obvious quasi infectous love for the piece that makes their performance all worthwhile. You may hate Christmas, you just can’t hate this Christmas. From the entire troupe, Simon Lipkin in the lead role of Buddy (the Elf) proves himself as very competent captain on this voyage through fantasy and carol delight – exuding contagious stamina and passion for his character and the journey he’s putting himself and the audience through. On the other hand, Dermont Canavan as Macy’s Manager is a hilarious contribution to the general feel-good vibe of the entire production, while Nicholas Pound gives a magnificent fatherly and warm rendition to a portrayal for which competition gets at its peak these months: Santa!
Legend says (or at least, Finding Neverland does) that nobody gave but a look of patronising incredulity to James M. Barrie’s idea of putting on a play dealing with a 12-year-old who was able to fly and wished to never grow up. The resemblance to Elf is more than accurate – not only regarding the similarities in its premise, but about the prejudice one may have as a critic. And however much of a guilty pleasure it could be to some critics to bring a show to pieces (not me, I swear… wink, wink?), it’s even more pleasant to say this is truly a production deserving if not a longer run, maybe to beconme a new Christmas theatrical tradition. After all, this is no gift you’ll ever fancy returning.
Elf, The Musical plays at London’s Dominion Theatre from Monday to Saturday. Tickets are available on the following link.