MILLBURN, NJ – A zany, spirited show that couldn’t be a better choice for the holidays, “Elf”--the musical based on the popular Will Ferrell movie--had its New Jersey premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse on Nov. 30.
Paper Mill pulls out all the stops for a dazzling production of nifty choreography, split-second scene changes, a hugely talented cast and terrific music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin.
We first see Paul C.Vogt as Santa, who starts to tell us a story that leads into the whole scenario. JamesMoye is Buddy, the overgrown elf who was an orphaned child (his mother died and his father never knew him) and was left in Santa’s care, somehow or other. It doesn’t really matter. The point is, he’s happy among the elves, although he towers above his playmates. Moye has an infectious, huggable quality in his innocent view of the world.
When we meet him, he’s being sent to earth to find his ‘real’ father, Walter, neatly played by Robert Cuccioli. Although Cuccioli doesn’t have much opportunity to sing, he conveys the character convincingly, ultimately realizing that there’s more to life than climbing the corporate ladder.
Buddy soon meets Jovie, a lonely young woman who’s spent a few miserable Christmases. Kate Fahrner is touching in her rendition of “Never Fall in Love” as she realizes that Buddy has something magical about him. Jessica Sheridan as Deb has some fun moments as Walter’s assistant at the office, when she comes up with a theme for the next holiday story. Cleve Avery, as Walter’s boss, is less than amused by efforts to placate him.
Back at the Hobb’s home, Michael, played by Jake Faragalli and his mother, Emily, (Heidi Blickenstaff), see Buddy in a different light than their father. They somehow get caught up in his cockeyed demeanor.
All the numbers have a fun, swinging quality, with clever lyrics that keep the show contemporary without being corny. One of the best songs is “Nobody Cares About Santa,” a terrific ensemble piece that starts off Act II. A chorus of Santas makes the case for their lonely job with kids texting instead of talking about their wishes.
The set design by Matthew Smucker takes us traveling through glimpses of Central Park, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and Tavern on the Green. Choreography by Josh Rhodes is lively and satisfying. Eric Ankrim has directed this bonbon with never a dull moment. What could be cloying and sweet (just like Buddy’s diet) never falls into that trap. But that’s because the timing is first rate and the storyis full of surprises (especially if you haven’t seen the movie.)
“Elf” can’t help but have a happy ending, with all that singing and dancing and laughter. It will surely brighten your days and nights during the busiest time of the year. “Elf” continues through Jan. 4. Be sure to make time for this fun-filled, delightful musical. The Paper Mill Playhouse is located at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn. For tickets, call (973) 376-4343 or visit papermill.org.
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