Review by Daz Gale
A Christmas favourite returns to the West End this week as Elf arrives for a fleeting visit. Returning to its original West End home of the Dominion Theatre, Elf last played here for the 2015-2016 Christmas season. Since then, it has embarked on an arena tour across the UK but finally Buddy The Elf is back where he belongs. The question is did the show have enough Christmas spirit to power it through or is this one Elf that should have been left on the shelf?
Based on the well-loved 2003 movie, Elf tells the story of Buddy the Elf who discovers he is actually a human taken in by Santa after he mistakenly crawled into his bag as a baby (easy mistake to make). Upon making this discovery, he leaves the North Pole and heads to New York to meet his birth father, who he is shocked to learn is on the naughty list. What follows is a heart-warming and hilarious tale as two different worlds collide all while the Christmas spirit veers dangerously low.
Stepping in to the role people immediately associate with Will Ferrell isn’t the easiest of tasks but luckily Elf have found the perfect star to fill those pointy shoes – step forward Simon Lipkin. No stranger to Christmas shows, having been a staple in Nativity! The Musical, he delivers an effortlessly charming performance as Buddy, perfectly encapsulating all the extreme mannerisms you would associate with the character from the movie. When Simon is on stage, it is hard to take your eyes off of him, such is the nature of his talent. Be it facial expressions, a whisper to get his dads attention or a grander gesture, Simon is a natural in a role he was clearly born to play. With a gorgeous singing voice to boot, Elf is the perfect vehicle for Simons talent and showcases what a remarkable talent he really is.
Simon Lipkin is matched with a truly incredible cast who bring a consistently high calibre of talent throughout the entire production. Georgina Castle delights as Jovie, Buddy’s love interest. Initially brash but melting as she gets to know him, Georgina showcases great versatility in a comic yet heartfelt performance. Tom Chambers is exceptional as Buddy’s father Walter Hobbs also letting his hard nature ebb away as the show nears its climax. A formidable performer, he is a joy to witness. As his wife, Emily, Rebecca Lock is a standout showcasing a remarkable singing voice and fantastic characterisation throughout.
Four children share the role of Buddy’s younger brother Michael. At this performance he was played by Logan Clark who delivered one of the standout performances of the night, showing fantastic range and a truly sensational singing voice. Other highlights among the glorious cast are Kim Ismay in the relatively small but memorable role of Deb, Nicholas Pound playing the dual roles of Santa Claus (I know him) and Mr Greenway while Dermot Canavan is a brilliant highlight as the Manager.
The book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan takes the very best moments from the movie, not changing any of the elements that are so well-loved, but admirably adapts the story so that it works on the stage with new moments added in to the story to elevate the story and make this a more well-rounded production. The dialogue is frequently hilarious but carries more range than you might have expect with plenty of sentimentality on hand throughout.
One problem well-loved movies sometimes have when being adapted into a full blown musical are having songs that not only make sense to the show and are worthy of the story but are of a high enough quality. There are certain musicals adapted from movies where the songs feel so obviously shoehorned in which can in turn be jarring. I am pleased to say this isn’t an issue with Elf. The songs from Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin feel like they were in the story from the beginning, and are of a consistently high standard –usually completely joyous.
Highlights among the musical numbers are Buddy’s early solo ‘World’s Greatest Dad’, the annoyingly catchy ‘Sparklyjollytwinklejingley’ (Even Mary Poppins would struggle to get her tongue around that one) and Georgina Castle’s incredible solo ‘Never Fall In Love (With An Elf)’. The highlight for me (and seemingly many others given the rapturous reaction) was Emily and Michaels glorious duet ‘There Is A Santa Claus’ featuring insane vocals from both Rebecca Lock and Logan Clark and reminding us all how powerful theatre can be at its very best.
A great use of lighting from Patrick Woodroffe and sound from Gareth Owen lifts the production, though the video design being used fails to match the high quality from other production elements. Tim Goodchild’s set design is gloriously versatile, transforming from the North Pole to Macy’s t the Hobbs apartment in a mere snap of the fingers. There is perhaps the feeling the stage is slightly too small for the Dominion Theatre – a problem that was seen in another production there earlier this year, but with a stage that vast, it can be forgiven – particularly when the set design itself is spectacular.
Liam Steel’s choreography is jaw dropping to witness, particularly on the bigger numbers which makes full use of the incredible ensemble cast. The big number are as huge as they get and are played to their full potential thanks to this truly fantastic use of choreography and the expert direction from Philip Wm. McKinley. On the more intimate numbers in the show, this never fails to be just as gripping visually in a show that is mostly consistent with its strong production elements.
If Christmas is about spreading joy and that is what theatre can do best, Elf is the perfect example of two worlds combining to produce something truly joyous. Heart-warming and hilarious, Elf manages to create a sense of childlike wonder and evoke emotions you may not have even expected. By the time the show finishes, you too will have been won over by Buddy and all his chaotic ways in a show that perfectly encapsulates the true spirit of Christmas. Son of a nutcracker, it’s a hit!
Elf plays at the Dominion Theatre until 7th January 2023. Tickets from https://elflondon.com/
Photos by Mark Senior