Mark Uhre is Holiday Bliss in Elf: The Musical

mark uhre as buddy with the ensemble elves

If you are looking for a fun and festive big, Broadway musical to help get you in the Christmas spirit, Elf: The Musical, playing at Neptune Theatre until January 6th, 2013 might be just the gift to give yourself. It is a sweet and joyful holiday romp bursting with sparklejollytwinklejingley good cheer.

Based on the 2003 holiday film of the same name starring Will Ferrell, Elf: The Musical centers on a young man named Buddy who, having stowed away as a baby in Santa Claus’ sack, grows up thinking that he is an elf at the North Pole. Once the truth is revealed Buddy heads to New York City to meet a father who doesn’t know he exists and becomes instrumental in reinstating Christmas spirit to cynical New Yorkers in attempt to save Christmas. The music by Matthew Skylar and Chad Beguelin is jaunty and a nice mixture of feeling contemporary but also harkening back to a more classic Broadway sound, while still capturing the distinct holiday season flavour. Beguelin’s lyrics are especially tightly constructed and nicely capture Buddy’s exuberance and naivety. Although, there is one song about a Christmas Gram where Buddy, who has sung gorgeously up until this point, suddenly can’t sing, which doesn’t make any sense even in the suspension of disbelief context of a musical. The book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan has a well constructed arc and lots of interesting dynamics to play with, although they leave the love story between Buddy and Jovie largely underdeveloped and I found the ending with the baby carriage a bit awkward because Buddy and Jovie’s dynamic never seemed to plausibly propel from the frivolity and innocence of two frolicking inner children into the realm of a mature adult relationship.

There is a lot to love in Neptune’s production beginning with Mark Uhre’s powerhouse performance as Buddy the Elf. Uhre has captured Buddy’s innocence and his extreme unbridled excitement so beautifully that he becomes a perfect mixture of adorably endearing and hysterically funny without ever grating on nerves. His Buddy is similar enough to Ferrell’s original to appease Elf purists while still giving him his own distinct quirks and moments. He has a gorgeous singing voice, gregarious dancing skills and gives 300% in energy for every moment he is onstage which makes him both captivating and mesmerizing to watch. I loved the relationships between Buddy and his newfound family; father Walter Hobbs, played by Marty Burt, step-mother Emily, played by Liz Gilroy and brother Michael, played by Elijah Mackenzie Smith. Their scenes are rooted firmly in the acting prowess of Uhre, Burt, Gilroy and Smith where each has his or her own interesting dynamic with everyone else in the family that doesn’t ever feel clichéd or forced. Marty Burt plays Walter Hobbs as an exasperated workaholic trapped in the corporate hamster wheel with a sense of humanity and room for redemption. He is cantankerous but we still believe that he loves his wife and his son and that he ultimately has the best intentions toward Buddy as well. Gilroy’s Emily is a delightful firecracker and her playfulness with Smith’s Michael gives them a great chemistry, which makes the audience eager for Buddy to find his place in this new family as well. It’s an added delight that they all have beautiful singing voices, and it’s especially lovely to see Marty Burt showing off his gorgeous baritone chops on the Neptune Mainstage.

Jenny Hall is a hoot and a half as the Macy’s Manager and Shelley Simester has pitch perfect comic timing as the wisecracking and mischief-making Deb, assistant to Hobbs. There is something very Sharron Matthews-esque about Simester’s presence onstage, a certain twinkle in her eye that you know from the moment she walks onstage that you are in for something fun. Blair Irwin is delightful as Jovie, she plays her more earnestly and less sardonic than one might expect, so Jovie becomes less of a comedic character and more of a poignant one. The ensemble has a beautiful crisp sound, especially in their harmonies and that brisk and well-polished energy spills over into their movement and dancing to great effect. I loved the use of the Children’s Chorus, although I wish that the young actors had been given more opportunities to sing with the ensemble when they were onstage. Their bright, beaming, faces capture so beautifully what Christmastime is all about.

Sean Mulcahy has built an ambitious set for the small Neptune stage and some aspects of it, like the revolving doors and the expansive New York City flats, work very effectively and ground the production in a firm sense of realism, while others seem less three dimensional and more vague. Jim White’s choreography is fun and expertly executed by the cast but is not especially unique and did not seem to emphasize the caliber of dance training that most of the performers were capable of delivering.

In all, Elf: The Musical is a warm, little bit glitzy, very much goofy, musical that urges its audiences not to become too cynical, too sardonic to believe in magic and to embrace the innocence and the naivety inherent in having a little Christmas spirit. Tickets are flying off the shelves at Neptune Theatre, so hurry to catch the spirit before Elf: The Musical is all sold out!

Elf: The Musical plays at the Neptune Theatre Fountain Hall Stage (1593 Argyle Street) until January 6th, 2013. Tickets from $20.00- $66.00 are available by calling 902.429.7070, visiting this website or visiting the box office in person at 1593 Argyle Street. 

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