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by Veronica Bruscini
Elf The Musical (based on the hit 2003 Will Ferrell film) tells the story of Buddy, a young man facing a Christmastime identity crisis.
As a toddler, the parentless Buddy spotted Santa making his annual visit to the orphanage, and fascinated with the contents of Santa’s toy sack, he crawled inside for a closer look. Old Saint Nick discovered the stowaway only after he returned home, and thus, Buddy remained at the North Pole to be raised by Santa’s elves. Time passes and Buddy grows older, but neither his remarkable (by elf standards) height, nor his poor toy-making skills clue him in to the truth: he is a human being, not an elf.
This production begins with Buddy’s discovery of his humanity and follows his quest to find his biological father in the faraway land of New York City. In the end, his journey leads not only to his family, but also to a mission to restore the true meaning of Christmas to the cynical, jaded residents of Manhattan.
Matt Kopec brings an abundance of energy to the role of Buddy. His elf is not as manic as his film counterpart; rather, Kopec accentuates Buddy’s innocence through bouncy enthusiasm, utter naïveté, and an aching earnestness both to find acceptance and spread good cheer in the human world.
Kate Hennies shines as Buddy’s love interest, the disillusioned Jovie. Jovie’s prior disappointments give the character a sarcastic edge and Hennies brings a delightful cynicism to the role, layering Jovie’s world-weariness with dimmed, but not entirely extinguished, hopes and dreams. Hennies and Kopec work well as scene partners, Jovie’s level-headed attitude providing needed balance to Buddy’s perpetual buoyancy.
Julia Louise Hosack and Connor Barth also stand out as Buddy’s vivacious stepmother Emily and precocious stepbrother Michael. Hosack and Barth present a natural, affectionate rapport in all of their scenes together, and they are well-matched as vocal performers, especially in their first act song “I’ll Believe in You.”
Christine Peters’ scenic design (based on the Broadway design by David Rockwell) mimics the storybook motif in Elf, particularly in its styling after the pop-up book Santa uses to relate Buddy’s history to the audience. Though the look of the Empire State Building is somewhat wanting, other visuals, including department store exteriors and the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, come to life with charm and whimsy.
Elf boasts a jazzy, highly enjoyable score by Doug Besterman, though some of the production’s musical numbers lack an organic connection to the storytelling, and Elf’s first act drags because of this overly tune-filled exposition. The second act picks up momentum nicely, however, kicking off with the department-store Santas’ song-and-dance lament “Nobody Cares About Santa” and Jovie’s snarky yet sweet tune “Never Fall in Love.”
Elf The Musical plays the Providence Performing Arts Center through November 10, 2012. Tickets are available online at www.ppacri.org, by phone (401) 421-ARTS (2787), or by visiting the box office at 220 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI. Ticket prices range from $41-$68; visit the website or contact the box office for details on Macy’s Family Night, Toys for Tots at Elf, or for information on discounted rates for groups of 20 or more.
Pictured: Matt Kopec (Buddy) and the cast of Elf The Musical. Photo by Joan Marcus.