Covedale’s “Elf the Musical:” Fast, Festive, and Family-Friendly

Review by Nathan Top

Based on Will Ferrell’s 2003 comedy, “Elf” tells the story of Buddy the Elf, a human raised by elves in the North Pole who goes to New York in search of his long lost father Walter, who happens to be on the naughty list. Along his journey, Buddy meets a colorful cast of characters, each having their own feelings about the upcoming Christmas holiday. 

The script, written by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, is reflective of the original film, snarky yet cheerful, appropriate for children with a few snappier jokes to keep adults engaged. “Elf the Musical” is the theater equivalent of a big, dumb dog: fun, boiserous, frivilous yet heartwarming with age appropriate fun for kids and adult-level jokes sprinkled in.  The musical numbers are sufficiently catchy and lyrically clever, a few memorable enough to add to a Christmas playlist. 

Under the direction of Tim Perrino, the show is fast and tonally cohesive. The dialogue flies by, the jokes are numerous and appropriately thrown away.

One of the true heroes of the show is choreographer Cassidy Steele, whose dance numbers add so much life to an already waggish score. One of my favorite moments of the show was the hilarious act two number “Nobody Cares About Santa,” the Fosse’esque  choreography reminding of “Sweet Charity” or “Chicago.” 

Brett Bowling’s flexible set felt large and expensive, transporting the audience from the North Pole to the streets of New York to an Empire State building office to a Chinese Restaurant. 

Christopher Wells is hilarious as the inextinguishably cheerful Buddy the Elf, whose prowess for physical comedy makes every moment on stage mesmerizing and engaging. Wells drives the show for the better part of two and a half hours, singing and dancing in a surprisingly athletic role.

Kayla Stroud has great chemistry with Wells as the pessimistic-yet-hopeful love interest Jovie. Stroud steals the show in the second act with her salty torch song “Never Fall In Love With an Elf.” 

Justin Glaser gives a compelling performance as Buddy’s dad Walter and Annie Schneider (Emily) and Hana Conte (Michael) give two beautiful duet performances on “I’ll Believe In You” and “There Is A Santa Claus.”

Dan Cohen is hilarious as the musical’s narrating Santa, landing most of his punchlines with quick, dry delivery and taking his well-earned laughs. Equally funny is Kelsey Chandler as Walter’s extravagant assistant, Deb.
If you are looking for a family-friendly good time, don’t leave this “Elf” on a shelf. “Elf the Musical” runs now through December 26th. Tickets can be purchased here.

Nathan Top is a Cincinnati-based playwright and musician. Nathan works as a freelance trumpeter and pianist, performing in big bands, pit orchestras, and pop groups.