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Center Stage: ‘Elf the Musical’ accomplishes what it sets out to do

By Staff | Dec 5, 2018

Marsha Wagner

The Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre has scored another crowd-pleasing holiday hit with its 194th production of “Elf the Musical,” an adaptation of the popular 2003 Will Ferrell Christmas blockbuster movie of the same name. “Elf” is one of the latest and best Christmas movies of this past decade.

This hilarious tale is about Buddy, a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. Unaware that he is human, Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. At Santa and Mrs. Claus’ suggestion, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his biological birth father, discover his identity and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.

This modern-day Christmas classic is not only sure to please, I’ll betcha it will become a regular Broadway Palm holiday favorite if the opening night audience’s reaction is any kind of yardstick.

Once in the Big Apple, Buddy (Chris Duir) finds his dad, Walter Hobbs (Christopher Russell) is a bitter frustrated, workaholic in the children’s books publishing business. Emily (Molly Samson) and Michael (Nicholas Salerno), Buddy’s stepmom and stepbrother share much of Dad’s pessimism.

At Macy’s the staff has been instructed to decorate the toy department for Santa’s annual visit, Buddy finds the holiday workers are also in need of a holiday fix. This is particularly true of Jovie (Ilana Gabrielle,) a cynical salesgirl whose snarky attitude and disposition attract and challenge Buddy. Buddy’s loving attitude inspires everyone around him, even New York’s dubious citizens. By the final curtain all the Big Apple is cheering waiting for Santa and the magic of this joyous holiday. And Ho, Ho, Ho you can bet your jingle boots, it happens.

While this story overflows with an abundance of heart and humor – thanks to a smart contemporary book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin – a catchy score by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, first-class choreography/staging by Amy Marie McCleary and heartfelt direction by Paul Bernier make “Elf” a first-class Broadway razzle, dazzle musical with lots of heart. And so, “Elf the Musical” accomplished what it set out to do – become a charming, funny, colorful, holiday musical that every young theatergoer and his folks will enjoy.

Duir is wonderful in the lead role. He’s appropriately quirky, lovable, completely captivating as Buddy, the 6-foot 4-inch elf, towering above all of Santa’s other elves. He plays his role full out, with honesty, goofy enthusiasm and total likability.

Russell and Samson are terrific as Buddy’s new, human parents journeying from being a non-believing Manhattan couple into a loving family who enjoy Christmas. Salerno is outstanding as Buddy’s 12-year-old stepbrother Michael. Salerno has a winning smile, a natural engaging demeanor and a singing voice that soars with both skill and enthusiasm.

Gabrielle’s forthright portrayal of Jovie is enchanting. She encapsulates all the sass and sarcasm of this lonely Macy’s employee, who reluctantly falls under Buddy’s spell of holiday joy and optimism; and her vocal abilities gives us Christmas goose bumps.

The supporting characters were all played with warmth and appeal. The always sensational Victor Legarreta is feisty and funny as Santa, so too is Kelly Legarreta as Mrs. Claus. They set the story in motion and act as narrators. The entire the ensemble were stupendous whether singing-dancing or just elfing around, making this show a rousing success.

My suggestion is don’t get left out of this big, dazzling, eye-popping production, filled with magic, spectacle and chocked full of talented musical actors, supported by gifted behind-the-scene artists and presented by the Prather Productions, playing the Broadway Palm until Dec. 25.

Zip over and phone the Box Office at 239-278-4422 for your holiday fix. Remember, tell ’em Marsha sent you and now season’s greetings to you!