Fans of the 2003 Will Ferrell film will enjoy Elf the Musical, which is making its regional premiere on the RHR stage at the Public Theater of San Antonio. Though some narrative changes have been required in transferring the film to the change, the heart of the story is still intact.
It’s the tale of Buddy, an orphan who’d been raised as an elf at the North Pole but who finds out he is actually quite human. Santa tells him that it’s time to meet his real father who lives in New York, so he embarks on a journey that is destined to not only transform him, but also the lives of those he encounters.
The book, by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, walks the fine line between childhood wonder and some more adult humor (complete with contemporary references), but still manages to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere. Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin’s score likewise varies between the ebullient and the plaintive, in keeping with the characters’ emotional journeys.
As directed by David Nanny, the Public’s cast is first-rate. James R. Welch is quite hilarious as the man-child Buddy, whose perpetual excitement about Christmas propels the piece. The number “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” really says it all.
Brandon R. Mace, Pamela Sharkey and John Paul Tucker are terrific as his newfound father, stepmother and half-brother. Sharkey and Tucker perform a touching duet, “I’ll Believe in You,” in the first act.
Robert M. Moritz is a compassionate Santa, who has been promoted to narrator in this version. Mariel Ardila also shines as Jovie, the department store elf who is at first appalled by the overly enthusiastic Buddy, but is gradually won over by his quirky charms.
The fine ensemble cast gets into the spirit of the proceedings. They go through a variety of colorful costume changes, courtesy of designer Elisa Bierschenk, and they’re well-choreographed by Courtnie Mercer. The entire cast is in fine voice as well, as accompanied by Darrin Newhardt’s solid eight-piece orchestra.
And the public’s production, with atmospheric scenic design by Sandra Lopez and George Green, lighting by Dan “Doc” Heggem and sound by Jesse Worley, adds sparkle to the show.
Elf the Musical plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through Dec. 22 at the Public Theater of San Antonio, 800 W. Ashby Pl. Reservations can be made online or by calling the box office at (210) 733-7258.
Photos by Siggi Ragnar.