To kick off its 56th season, the FSCJ Artists Series has invaded the Center for the Performing Arts with a winter wonderland of Santa, Elves, and a Grinch of a dad. Not to mention Buddy, who is caught between the two worlds as a human raised by Santa’s elves. Parental warning: Your children may wind up on the naughty list if they get ideas to use your shredders to make snow in Jacksonville!
Based on the 2003 movie, ELF: The Musical first hit Broadway in 2010. After a lackluster showing, the show was retooled, and has held a fairly solid community following ever since. Like the original movie, ELF: The Musical is very light fare with pieces geared towards adults and others towards the kids.
ELF: The Musical is a show within a show. It opens with Santa ready a story of Buddy, the Elf, to the audience. The stage then transforms to Santa’s Workshop, with the cast singing and dancing on their knees – quite adeptly – as Buddy (Cody Garcia) happy, smiley, talented self enters towering over the ensemble at 6’5”. But then, he accidentally finds out that he is human.
Santa (Mark Fishback) confirms that, even though Buddy’s mother has died, his father is alive and living in New York. He sends Buddy off to New York, where Buddy not only meets his Scrooge of a father, Walter Hobbs, (Christopher Robert Smith), who is on the “Naughty List”, but he finds out he has a step-mother (Caitlin Lester-Sams) and a step-brother (Jaxon James), who are much more accepting of their new family member. This family unit is well-matched talent-wise, although James is more than a bit of a scene-stealer with his strong voice and great expressions. His duet, “There is a Santa Claus”, with Lester-Sams in Act II is a wonderful number.
It’s easy to hate the Scrooge. Smith, who is probably the most non-stop performer out of the troupe between his stage, TV, and Film productions, had my son convinced he was a bad actor. He didn’t smile until the very end of the show, when he finally redeems himself. Bringing the story full-circle, Hobbs is a children’s storybook publisher, and needing a story to keep his job, together, he and Buddy write the story of Elf. This brings the story full-circle to the book Santa has been reading to the audience.
Two other actors need to be called out for their talent. In the course of searching for his father, Buddy meets Jovie (Cait Zuckerman), who becomes his love-interest. For an understudy making her touring debut, no one would know she hasn’t been doing the role all along. The other is Hobb’s secretary, Deb (Nakiya Peterkin), who is a wonderful comedienne with a fabulous voice.
I think I heard the most comments from the audience about the opening number for Act II. Of course, all of the now out-of-work Santa’s gather for Chinese food on Christmas Eve. The jazzy “Nobody Cares About Santa” was very well executed by all and just a riot.
The entire ensemble was tight with their choreography and vocals. They truly worked as a team and looked like they were having fun, so we were drawn into their fun. The orchestra, led by Michael Gildin, was so clean that I heard audience members wondering if it was a recording.
The one place where the show fell a bit short was on the technical side. The extremely ambitious set has to be able to make all sorts of pulley and track systems work in various venues without much time. One of the flats stuck on a track, and the show held for about 15 minutes while they fixed it. Most annoying were the persistent glitches in the microphones, which would cut out, and the tiny spotlight that kept trying to follow various cast members through the show.
Part of the FSCJ Artist Series, ELF: The Musical is at the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts December 6-11, 2022, with performances Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Ticket prices vary based on show and seating. For tickets, go to fscjartistseries.org or call (904) 632-5000.
By Cessy Newmon