Just in time for the holidays, the Paramount Theatre in Aurora is offering an eye-popping, Broadway caliber, full-scale musical celebrating the darling outsider’s tale of one Mr. William Hobbes. If that character’s name is not ringing a (Christmas) bell for you, Will is more commonly known as Buddy the Elf. Anyone familiar with the 2003 Jon Favreau directed and Will Ferrell starring film, already knows this story of a baby who crawled into Santa’s toy bag one fateful Christmas Eve, forever changing his destiny. Raised at the North Pole by a team of winsome elves, Buddy accidentally discovered he is not an elf by birth, but actually a …. human and sets off on an adventure to find his biological father in New York City. Paramount wisely selected Director and Choreographer, Amber Mak, responsible for last year’s highly-imaginative holiday hit, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, to return and weave her creative magic on Elf, fusing her signature strong visuals and athletic choreography to once again pack the house. While the book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin may be a little too real world sardonic for my tastes, the original music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, respectively, is more than enough to delight, ensuring no one involved be rewarded with coal in their stockings.
Cast at the titular character, Kyle Adams’ Buddy is all wide-eyed innocence and glee. Thankfully, Adam’s doesn’t try to mimic Ferrell in any way, making this part distinctively his own. Starting out at the North Pole, the story opened to a splashy “Christmastown” production number, lead by Santa’s number one elf, Charlie (J Tyler Whitmer) and a kick-line of marionette-legged workshop elves. This visual may be borrowed from “Lord Farquaad” of Shrek the Musical and Broadway’s current Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical ‘s oompa loompas, but the site-gag continued to entertain. Mistakenly overhearing he’s adopted, Buddy ventures off on a journey to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbes (Michael Accardo) an Ad Exec a few quarts low on Christmas cheer. Upon his NYC arrival, Buddy’s greeted by the impressive scenic designs of Jeffrey D. Kmiec. Anyone who has actually traveled to Times Square cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and scale of all the real world billboards, replicated here, including marquees of current Broadway success stories Waitress, Kinky Boots and Hamilton. Also included, retail venues like Forever 21 and Macy’s as well as the underwear clad, western boot wearing “Naked Cowboy”. Upon finding his father, Buddy’s quickly dismissed by a barrage of grey adorned office drones. Theresa Ham’s costumes, capturing the spirit of the basic black and grey urban office subculture uniform, shrewdly balanced against the bright green of Buddy’s elf costume and the bold reds, yellows and blues of the workshop elves and those still full of Christmas cheer. After a quick DNA test on a stolen hair sample, Buddy wins over his new step mother, Emily (Lara Flip) and step-brother, Michael (Oliver Boomer), both in fine voice, demonstrated during “I’ll Believe in You” and “There is a Santa Clause”.
Also returning to the Paramount, Samantha Pauly, last seen as Amber in Hairspray, this time cast as leading lady and love interest, Jovie. The sardonic retail worker who captured Buddy’s affections, Pauly’s rendition of “Never Fall In Love” was worth the price of admission alone. A woman who has had her holiday wishes dashed more than once, Pauly’s Jovie is reluctant at first, until Buddy took her on a magical first date ending at “Rockefeller Center” complete with a functioning ice-skating rink, built center stage, nice touch, Ms. Mak, set to the tune of “A Christmas Song.” Act two began with a disenchanted and rejected Buddy, stumbling into the Chung Fu Palace Chinese restaurant, lamenting his woes with a team of now out-of-work Mall Santa’s, collectively high stepping to the ditty, “Nobody Cares About Santa”. Being that this show is produced for a family-friendly audience, the question as to whether Santa (Roger Mueller) will find enough Christmas Cheer to power his sled is never really a legitimate threat, however once his sleigh actually took flight and soared over the Paramount’s audience, with flying effects produced by JFX, Inc. and Company and Jake’s Machining, Elf will have warmed the hearts of any potential Grinches in attendance.
Joining Mak for what is quickly becoming her annual Paramount holiday showcase, Musical Director Tom Vendafreddo, Projection Designer Joseph A. Burke and Lighting Designer Greg Hofmann, all bringing their A game to the proceedings. Katie Cordts’ Wig, Hair and Makeup design delighted as well, although ensemble member Haley Jane Schafer appeared to be all but swallowed up by the volume of her respective blonde curls. The story of Buddy the Elf may have a few script flaws, however the Paramount’s talented cast and crew have produced a lively and spirited charmer that will appease the masses. Singing loud for all to hear is a holiday mantra that modern day, world weary citizens could very much benefit from.