A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
The Alhambra Theatre opened its annual Christmas holiday show with the Jacksonville premier of “Elf – The Musical” on December 21, 2018, which will remain on stage through December 24.
“Elf” came to life in a movie released in 2003 and was a big hit. A musical version debuted on Broadway in 2010, and has remained a popular seasonal show throughout the country.
The play opens with Santa (Shaun Rice), who has been using his iPad to keep his naughty and nice lists updated, deciding to relate the story of Buddy the Elf. Buddy is not really an elf. Buddy is a human whose mother died when he was a baby. Afterward, he accidently wound up in Santa’s bag and was taken by sleigh to Santa’s home at the North Pole in Christmastown, where he was raised as an elf. His human father – who’s on Santa’s naughty list – lives in New York. The story comes as a shock to Buddy, who, with Santa’s encouragement, decides to travel to the Big Apple, find his father, and join the human world.
His father Walter Hobbs (Mark Poppleton) works for a publisher in an office in the Empire State Building. When Buddy shows up at his office, Hobbs doesn’t believe that he is his son and sends him away. His employee Deb, who will later befriend Buddy, is portrayed by the Alhambra’s favorite comedienne Lisa Valdini. Hobbs is married to the lovely Emily (Jennifer Medure) and has a talented young son Michael (Trey Murphy).
Buddy winds up working in the toy department at Macy’s Department Store, where he fits in just fine. “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” one of the funniest songs, features all the workers in the toy department, including a hilarious manager (Jereme Raickett) and Buddy’s first love interest, the attractive but hesitant Jovie (Jessie Booth). The story doesn’t end at Macy’s, of course, but we will leave the remainder of the plot for your viewing.
Dustin Maxwell is fantastic in the leading role of Buddy. We recall seeing him on the Alhambra Stage as the Scarecrow in “Wizard of Oz.” He captures the charm and joy in an over-the-top performance as he smiles, dances, and sings for two hours with boundless zeal. He is convincing as well, and we considered loading up on his favorite four food groups of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup.
There are fourteen songs written especially for this show, and they are performed excellently by the twenty cast members, who sing up a snowstorm thanks to Producer/Director Tod Booth and Musical Director Cathy Murphy Giddens. The show also includes showstopper dancing thanks to Choreographer James Kinney and Associate Choreographer Alex Nordin.
The multi-talented ensemble members who appeared in varied roles included Jake Delaney, Jamie King, Erin Leigh Knowles, Patrick Marshall, Rico Lastrapes, Kaléa Leverette, Nicole Spencer, and Galloway Stevens.
A Christmas would be incomplete without children. On Gala Night, we saw performers Tatum Matthews, who recently appeared in ABET’s “Wait Until Dark,” and Lucy Feagins who appeared as Tiny Tim in the Alhambra’s past production of “Christmas Carole.” Both are nine years old and handled their roles well. The roles are double cast; sixth-grader Reagan Thomas and eighth-grader Abigail Douglas will also represent “Elf’s” younger set in future productions.
The costumes were festive with many Santa and elf outfits. Unique attire allowed the cast members to perform on their knees to portray small elves in the opening scene. Set Designer Ian Black’s marvelous creations took us from the North Pole to familiar places in New York, which included Macy’s, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, a Chinese Restaurant, and Central Park.
Additional production staff included Shain Stroff (Stage Manager), Lisa Booth (Assistant Stage Manager), Nicole Spencer (Dance Captain), Camala Pitts & Dorinda Quiles (Costume Design), Dave Dionne (Technical Director ), Daniel Dungan (Lighting Designer), Linnay Bennett (Sound Design), Patti Eyler (Properties), Bryce Cofield (Deck Chief), and Luke Holt & Jason Booth (Crew).
The musical is notable for its many positive themes, which include joy, kindness, and shared love. Advisory: The show was sold out before the first curtain, and the Alhambra is not maintaining a waiting list. If you want to go, you can try calling during box office hours to see if any seats have become available due to recent cancellations.
The Alhambra has nine shows scheduled for 2019; the season opens with “Godspell” (January 9 – February), an all time favorite. The Christmas show will be the musical version of the classic “A Wonderful Life.”
And “The Rat Pack” is returning to the Alhambra After Dark series due to popular demand; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. come to life in a nostalgic reunion concert (January 3 – 6). Call 641-1212 or visit alhambrajax.com for information and reservations.