Review: ‘Elf Jr.’ gets the laughs, but where’s the spaghetti and maple syrup?
My favorite moment in “Elf, Jr.” came near the end of the show:
Buddy the Elf, aka the Will Ferrell character in this musical adaptation of the popular movie, makes a grand, happy announcement to a group gathered before him. Christmas is a lot more than Santa Claus, he proclaims. Among other things, Christmas is … “getting your first kiss under a big, glittery Christmas tree!”
Pictured above: Noah Miranda plays Buddy in ‘Elf, Jr.’ He alternates the role with Joshua Hudson. Photo: Children’s Musical Theaterworks
Instant, brutal audience opprobrium followed. Kids in the crowd hissed. They groaned. They practically threw up a little in their little respective mouths. How dare Buddy bring icky-sticky kissing into the discussion? Ewww!
It made me realize that despite the grown-up world our kids navigate today, with network TV doing a lot more than kissing and a no-holds-barred internet always ready to overshare what used to be confined to behind locked bedroom doors, they can still be, well, kids. They can still get grossed out by kid things. It’s as if they realized, even obliquely, that they were defending their kid-friendly turf against yet another encroachment from the adult world, and so they spontaneously erupted in derision.
Good for them. In a way, I found it rather touching.
The Children’s Musical Theaterworks production, which continues through Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium, has some bright moments and a festive feel under the direction of Kamryn Hemaiden. It also had a couple of plot-related disappointments for me.
This isn’t a true review ( I don’t offer negative critiques on child performers in children’s theater), but here are five quick reflections on the production:
1. There are some nice standout performances. Georgie Kalmbach is fun to watch as Michael, Buddy’s half-brother. Rebekah Williams is impressive as Jovie, the love interest. (Ewww.) Cordell Moon wins the award for Ability to Stay Completely Immobile. (He also makes a great Santa.) And two smaller roles really caught my eye: Sami Shaheen-Smith as the Macys manager; and Melody Richardson as Deb, the receptionist. Both have combustible comic energy.
2. Dan Aldape’s set design is clever. (I especially like the blunt green of the desks and computers, all painted the same tone.) His sound design is good, always a challenge in the auditorium. And Aldape does some nifty things with his lighting design (yes, he was a busy guy on this show). There are times, however, when that lighting design feels a little frantic — the first New York street scene comes to mind — with too much distracting motion.
3. The ensemble needed more direction. There seems to be a lot of aimless milling around that goes on in some of the crowd scenes. More specific blocking would help.
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4. In terms of my plot disappointments, “Elf, Jr.” eliminates some of the best parts of the movie (and, if I’m recalling, the adult version of the musical). I can understand why the scene in which Buddy calls a dwarf an elf — resulting in a frenzied attack of violence — was excised in this children’s version. But why no spaghetti with maple syrup? That’s a classic. It was my favorite scene.
5. Finally, a tip of an elf’s hat to Joshua Hudson, who played the leading role of Buddy in the performance I attended. (He alternates with Noah Miranda.) Hudson brings a jolly, charismatic presence to the stage (and some nice singing as well). Buddy might turn out to be human, but Hudson channels his inner elf in a way that spreads holiday cheer. And at Christmas, that’s a great gift to an audience.