Review: With Shawn Williams as your good Buddy, ‘Elf: The Musical’ can’t help but sing


Why is “Elf: The Musical,” which has been cracking up audiences at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater for some time now, so dependably funny?

Because of the hard-working Shawn Williams as Buddy, the human raised as an elf who is suddenly released from Santa’s fold and thrust into the perplexing world of non-North Pole everyday life. In a performance that must set a record for calories burned, Williams brings a jittery intensity to almost every moment of the show. He’s like a sparkler that never goes out.

In that regard, Williams shares a lot in common with Will Ferrell, who likewise catapulted the film version of “Elf” to something like cult status. You’ve got to have a Buddy with the highest comic octane there is.

The interesting thing is that Ferrell could take a break between takes while filming “Elf,” while Williams has to do thing live and in real time, with just an intermission to recharge his batteries. (I half expected him during his break to dart out into the dining room and deliver desserts to tables 16 through 25.)

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The musical stage version of “Elf” captures many (but not all) of the movie’s funniest bits (including a nod to spaghetti with syrup) and follows the same general plot: Buddy visits his father, Walter Hobbs (a blustery and endearing Greg Ruud), meets a love interest, Jovie (Dorie Sanders, who doesn’t totally click in this role for me), and both wreaks havoc on and becomes an inspiration for his father’s publishing office.


The Good Company Players production, co-directed by Emily Pessano and Robert Sanchez, moves briskly and with clever machinations. Pessano and Jessica Sarkisian’s choreography is a highlight. So are supporting performances by Melanie Heyl (what a voice!) as Buddy’s stepmother and Camille Gaston as an acerbic office manager. There’s also a fine phalanx of elves (Maya Roberts, Juliana Richardson, Chloe Dumore, Stella Freeman, Kiera Christensen, Logan McLamore and Diego Sosa) that offers chipper interludes.

At the performance I attended, my only major complaint was with the dimmer-than-usual lighting design, which accommodated the excellent scenic projections by Broadway Media Distribution. Too often, we lost lights on the actors’ faces so the projections wouldn’t wash out. That said, projections today offer a wonderful way for smaller theater companies to expand their scenic worlds, and I’m excited to see what comes in the future.


What’s next for Williams, meanwhile, when “Elf” ends after two months of him joking, scampering, belting (in quite fine voice, I might add), running, leaping, prancing and just plain exploding with humor?

You’d hope he’d get to take a nice, long vacation.

Instead, he’ll be opening just a few days later in “Something Rotten!” in January. Maybe next Christmas he should ask Santa for a clone.

Show info

‘Elf: The Musical,’ a Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre. Continues through Jan. 12. Tickets (some including dessert or dinner) are $32-$60.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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