As Buddy, Jordan Gelber gives 150% in every scene and though his joy for the role shoots into the mezzanine, his vocal inflections become a little grating near the end of Act I. He redeems himself in Act II with a handful of sensational one-liners and some dashing dance steps. His "Carol of the Bells" rendition is one of the highlights of the show.
Leslie Kritzer is an introverted Jovie who simply blends in until you see her beaming smile in "A Christmas Song," the ice skating scene. This show gives us more background on Jovie than the original film, as we learn that she moved from LA and she's spent nearly two years alone until she met Buddy. Oh yeah, and she absolutely sings her face off in her darling red party dress in her Act II solo "Never Fall in Love".
Beth Leavel goes above and beyond the call of duty in the relatively small role of Emily. The character who was simply 'there' in the film becomes a force to be reckoned with under Leavel's command. She's clearly trying to pull focus, but it works just the same. Her sarcastic expressions and quick delivery stand out in Act I, but by Act II you'll think she's your drunk Aunt who shows up for the holidays to share a bottle of chardonnay with herself. She has fantastic chemistry with Mitchell Sink who plays her son Michael. The song "I'll Believe in You" where their blending voices plead to Santa to give them Christmas Day with Walter is a particularly heartfelt moment.
Michael Mandell, in the role of the Macy's manager, simply steals the show. Talk about doing a lot with a tiny role! His physical humor and his sassy, snappy attitude contrast perfectly with Buddy's overwhelming joy as they argue about Santa's arrival at "The North Pole".
The scenery is colorful and sparkly, just as you would expect. The use of projection is particularly effective in showing movement as Buddy travels from the North Pole to New York City. The whirling desks in office scenes are a little "9 to 5" for my taste but they get the job done. And a Rockefeller Center scene will leave you wondering "how did they do that" as the characters skate across the ice rink.
Act I is very similar to the film you know and love, but as I sipped my diet coke out of my ELF souvenir mug after intermission, I couldn't help but feel that I was watching a different story. Act II takes a few liberties with the story, though it still achieves the same result. Every show has that one number that you just want to end and in this show it is "Nobody Cares About Santa" where a Chinese restaurant full of part-time mall Santas lament the lack of Christmas spirit in New York. Otherwise, the score is memorable and endearing. You'll definitely leave the theatre humming a few of the tunes.
Fans of ELF will not be disappointed. You get all of the things you loved with a few updated references. Instead of cramming cookies into the VCR, this Buddy pours a bottle of syrup into the DVD player. It's like a venti peppermint mocha-it's so sweet that it makes you sick-but you love it anyway.