The role of Buddy is completely inhabited by Ben Forster, the show’s hyperactive tour de force. Not so much likeable as loveable, Forster’s Buddy is endearing even when he is inadvertently wreaking havoc – undeniably, the complete lack of malicious intent almost guarantees his continued approval on the audience’s part throughout. A highly energetic character, he is missed when off-stage, and we’re left with characters that don’t achieve a similarly strong rapport with the audience. I realise this may be very deliberate, and at times probably helps to justify Buddy’s existence at all at certain points in the narrative.
There’s a decent mixture of tunes, played by an impeccable orchestra, led by Stuart Morley, who seems to like the Dominion Theatre: he was musical director for a number of years for We Will Rock You in the same venue. The song ‘I’ll Believe In You’ follows in the footsteps of Billy Elliot the Musical and Made in Dagenham in lyricizing the words of a poignant and deeply emotionally charged letter – just in case anyone was wondering if it was all jingle bells and glamour. And then there was ‘Nobody Cares About Santa’, where the children of today are derided for not paying nearly as much attention to shopping centre Santas as the children of yesteryear.
Aside from that, though, the songs are not particularly memorable, even if there is something quite Mary Poppins-esque in Buddy extolling the virtues of making even the most mundane of tasks seem fun – through song. But mostly it is, as The Pajama Game would put it, “all going in one ear, and out the other”. If I’m referencing a lot of other names and shows, it’s only because Elf does so itself, with mentions of The Ice Man Cometh, Billy Crystal and Miracle on 34th Street.
I found it odd that Kimberley Walsh as Jovie could have thousands enraptured in a previous incarnation as a member of the popular music group Girls Aloud, but seemed a little unengaging and detached here. There are, though, stand out performances in both Joe McGann’s Walter and Jennie Dale’s Deb, the former’s ever-confident nature and the latter’s playful and bubbly persona both always welcome.
Elf isn’t for everyone. A few audience members walked out well before the interval, and still others did not return for Act Two. At times the show comes across as not quite big enough to fill the large Dominion stage space. A few musical numbers seemed to be there as fillers to help the show reach its 10.00pm finish. Some of the narrative is too predictable, and other parts of it too implausible. But in the mix of various protagonists and antagonists, it’s pleasing to see it’s more sophisticated than a simplistic ‘good’ meaning ‘very, very good’ and ‘bad’ meaning ‘horrid’.
There are enough jokes and punchlines to entertain the mums and dads – and other big people in the audience clearly obsessed by any and all things Christmas. It doesn’t quite reach the incredible heights that would justify those infamous premium seat prices (you could always write a letter to Santa requesting tickets to Elf…), but it’s very pleasant nonetheless. I would recommend it to those who would like a seasonal show but without the audience participation and near-anarchy of a panto.
Review by Chris Omaweng
ELF is the hilarious tale of 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 actually human, Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. With Santa’s permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity, and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.
Elf The Musical
268-269 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7AQ
24th October 2015 – 2nd January 2016
Monday – Saturday 7.30pm
Wednesday & Saturday 2.30pm