I went to Elf the Musical fully aware I wouldn’t be seeing the best musical ever written, but ready for some Christmas fun. And that’s exactly what was delivered. I wouldn’t give it any awards when pitched against other musicals (not even close), but Elf the Musical is probably the most unapologetically Christmassy entertainment you’ll find on any stage.
The musical is incredibly true to the film, which is potentially both what makes it great and what lets it down. Was it ever really going to beat the film so many name as their favourite at this time of year? Especially a film so well-known and so ‘quote-able’. However, all of the classic lines and the heart-warming story are there.
The musical had a huge cast, considering there are only a few named characters, and this really added to the ‘party’ feel of the bigger, Christmassy group numbers. ‘Christmastown’ was a great opening, and set the mood for the show ahead. The elves were hilarious, with each actor giving their elf a personality which shone through. ‘Nobody Cares about Santa’ was also a strong group number, although could maybe have been a little shorter – the scene went on rather a long time for something which adds very little to the story.
And I think this would be one of my main gripes with the show as a whole: it was extremely long. At just over two and a half hours in total, the evening performance I went to ended at about 10.15pm. Bearing in mind the primary audience for this show is a young one, I felt that was too late and too long.
And it would have been very, very easy to make it shorter. There were a lot of musical numbers which seemed to go on and on, and the final 10 minutes in particular seemed to last forever. Once the story was complete, there was a whole bowing section, followed by another big tap-dance number (I was left very underwhelmed by the tap dancing), and then another huge song with more bows. I’ll be the first to say I like the actors to get proper time to be applauded and appreciated following a performance, but it was a bit ridiculous and added little.
‘The Story of Buddy the Elf’ was also a very long song and scene, although I have to admit it’s the one that’s been stuck in my head! It was one of the ‘show-stopping’ numbers, and was performed well by everyone in the boardroom. Little Michael in particular was clearly loving it. Harry Collett took on the Michael role when we watched, and he impressed me. He seemed to grow in confidence as the show went on, and his duet with his mother in the second act (‘There is a Santa Claus’) was beautifully sung.
Emily Hobbs was played by Jessica Martin, who was a lovely addition to the cast. It’s not a stand-out role, but Martin delivered the parts she did have in a very heartfelt fashion, and her voice was strong. Joe McGann (Walter Hobbs) did leave a little to be desired, for me. I enjoyed his first scenes, and felt his ‘growly’ speaking voice worked well, but he faded into the background when he really should have been at the forefront of the tale.
Jennie Dale was one of the stars of the show for me, as Walter’s employee Deb. She was full of life and stole any scene she was a part of. A really memorable performance.
In contrast, I found Kimberley Walsh’s Jovie to be a little flat. The song ‘Never Fall in Love’ was sung fantastically, but I felt her other scenes were very average. Her accent was hit-and-miss, and I often struggled to hear what she was saying in some of her sarcastic moments, which are the parts that really make the character.
The absolute surprise and stand-out star of the show was Ben Forster, as Buddy the Elf. I say surprise only because I was unsure how anyone could step into such an iconic, goofy, loveable role and do it as well as the original. Forster’s talent I never doubted, having seen him previously in Jesus Christ Superstar – you couldn’t get two much more different shows! So I knew his voice was incredible, but didn’t know how he would adapt to a role like Buddy.
Seconds into his first appearance, I was sold. He was quirky, goofy, loveable, and his vocal talents only added to the superb acting on show. He was what made the show for me, and I couldn’t imagine anyone playing the role better. A fantastic casting decision.
So there you have it: mixed feelings! The acting by most was average (by West End standards), but Ben Forster was incredible. The songs were festive and enjoyable, but very long. It was the story we know and love, but with a few favourite moments missing.
But most of all, and probably most importantly, it was a cheesy slice of Christmas magic.
And after all, isn’t that exactly what we want from the story of Buddy the Elf? If that was the aim of the show, then they delivered.
Don’t go expecting the best musical on earth, but do expect to leave the theatre ready to whip out the Christmas jumpers and enjoy Christmas merriment galore.