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The Theatreguide.London Review

Elf
Dominion Theatre  Winter 2015-2016

Elf is a bright, sparkly, bouncy holiday musical. 

It isn't My Fair Lady or Phantom. It doesn't advance the art form an inch (In fact it has a very old-fashioned feel about it.) But it provides a couple of hours of light entertainment that won't go too far over children's heads and won't be a chore for parents to sit through. 

More than anything else, it's harmless, except perhaps to your wallet, stalls prices ranging from over 80 pounds to 267. 

It's based, as you might have guessed, on the hit film about a foundling baby raised by Santa's elves who doesn't figure out he's human until he's an adult and goes to New York in search of his real father. 

Of course papa turns out to be a grumpy businessman, the inevitable pretty girl has no Christmas spirit, his little brother doesn't believe in Santa – and Buddy cures them all just in time for Christmas, between a string of innocent-in-the-big-city gags. 

Thomas Meehan (Annie) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) adapted the filmscript, and composer Matthew Sklar (Sesame Street) and lyricist Chad Beguelin (Aladdin) provided the pleasant but unmemorable songs. 

There's a Supercalifragilistic. . . rip-off, a couple of get-in-the-Christmas-spirit songs for Buddy, a sad song for Buddy and, as inescapable as the happy ending, a song called There Is A Santa Claus. 

The real stars of the show are set designer Tim Goodchild and video backdrop designer Ian William Galloway, whose bright primary colours give everything the happy air of a child's picture book. 

Sets, musical numbers and some of director Morgan Young's choreography also hark back to some of the simple comic-book musicals of the 1960s, like How To Succeed In Business (dancing secretaries) and Subways Are For Sleeping (dancing Santas). 

As Buddy, Ben Forster does innocent-to-the-point-of-idiocy with enough bounce and charm that he only occasionally slips over into really annoying.

Joe McGann serves the show generously in the thankless role of the mean but eventually loosened up father, though Kimberley Walsh is all but invisible as the generic pretty girl. 

There are nice supporting turns by Graham Lappin as a grumpy department store manager and Jennie Dale as daddy's mousy secretary, both characters predictably but entertainingly won over by Buddy's Christmas spirit. 

There is nothing wrong with Elf that just one spark of originality or not by-the-numbers couldn't cure. But who wants anything but absolutely safe predictability in a holiday show?

Gerald Berkowitz


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