From its opening moments when Daniel Marcus’ jolly, roly-poly Santa tells the audience he has a story to share, Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of “Elf — The Musical” is a lively, fun-filled musical romp.
Quinn VanAntwerp’s “freaky happy” Buddy looks like a gentle giant as he sits making toys in Santa’s workshop with the children who play the other elves. It’s not surprising when we discover that he’s not an elf at all but an orphan whom Santa and the elves adopted, and he sets off on an adventure to the big city to find his real family.
VanAntwerp’s ingenuous performance grounds this production and keeps it on track. He believes in Buddy, and his bumbling ineptness and genuine affection for everyone he meets, no matter how curmudgeonly, makes us believe in him, too. Like a good piece of Christmas candy, his Buddy is crisp and sweet but not too gooey.
And he can sing and dance. “Elf” is bursting with glossy production numbers that show off those talents. In “Just Like Him,” he takes off his jacket, does a few burlesque bumps and grinds, and dances on the tables.
Composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin have created lots of energetic, show-stopping numbers, and Dan Knechtges’ brisk, no-nonsense direction and Liza Gennaro’s inventive, always-in-motion choreography keep things going at a fast pace. In “SparkleJolly TwinkleJingley,” Macy’s workers transform the stage into a big, bright Christmas box. “A Christmas Song” tells us that “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is sing out loud for all to hear.”
Act II starts with three outstanding numbers in a row. In “Nobody Cares About Santa,” disgruntled department-store Santas form a chorus line and commiserate about the decline of the Christmas spirit; Buddy’s pert, petite girlfriend, Jovie (Libby Servais), who believes “if you lower your expectations about life, you avoid a lot of disappointment,” advises us to “Never Fall in Love with an Elf”; and in “There Is a Santa Claus,” Buddy’s newfound stepmother, Emily (Tanesha Gary), and stepbrother, Michael (Jaedin Clark), rekindle their belief in Santa with the help of some bright, flashing lights. Tom Griffin’s assured musical direction keeps everyone tunefully together.
“Elf’s” talented, multiracial cast reflects the diversity of a big city like New York. Martin Vidnovic’s workaholic Walter, Buddy’s dad, transitions deftly into a caring family man. Gary’s Emily is practical and down to earth, and Clark creates a sweet, spunky Michael. Servais’ Jovie is a little lady with a big voice, and she is so tiny and VanAntwerp’s Buddy so tall that seeing them together makes you smile. Allyson Kaye Daniel is sassy as the gossipy Deb, and Lance Roberts’ bossy, intimidating Greenway turns into an unexpected song-and-dance man à la Louis Armstrong. The rest of the ensemble is also strong, and the children are a delight as the elves.
Michael Schweikardt’sflexible, cityscape set, John Lasiter’s upbeat, ever-shifting lighting, and K.L. Alberts’ colorful, kaleidoscope costumes add to the fun.
“Elf” is an exuberant Christmas present about the power of family for the whole family to share.
Pioneer Theatre Company’s ‘Elf’
Bottom line • Pioneer Theatre Company’s “Elf” is a fast-paced, joyous Christmas present about family for the whole family.
When • Mondays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Dec. 21, with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. Extra performances on Dec. 23 at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 24 at noon; Dec. 26 at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 27 at 2; and Dec. 28 at 2 and 8 p.m.
Where • Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. University St., Salt Lake City
Running time • Two and a half hours, including an intermission
Tickets • $38-$59 in advance; $5 more on the day of the show. Half price for students K–12 on Mondays and Tuesdays; $5 early bird discounts on first seven performances. Call 581-6961 or visit www.pioneertheatre.org for tickets and information. PTC is also sponsoring a holiday gift drive for low-income families; find more information at www.CandyCaneCornerSLC.org