Paper Mill Playhouse - Millburn, NJ - December 2014

Review by John Kenrick

The photos below are used with the permission of Paper Mill Playhouse.

Elf at Paper Mill 2014 - Macy'sThe ensemble decorates Macy's for the holidays in Paper Mill's Elf.

Even if you share my personal loathing for comedian Will Farrell, I'll wager you'll thoroughly enjoy Paper Mill's production of Elf -- the musical stage version of Farrell's big screen holiday comedy. And if you happen to love Farrell and his hit film, then the spirited silliness of this genial show just might be one of the highlights of your December.

The story of a human boy raised at the North Pole by Santa's elves who goes to New York in search of his long lost father delighted many movie goers, but struck me as rather weak. This stage adaptation is considerably better thanks in large part to a laugh-packed libretto by Tony winners Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin. Composer Matthew Sklar's tuneful score has serviceable lyrics by Chad Beguelin -- offering lots of opportunities for the cast to belt out pleasant pleas for holiday cheer.

This production, which comes to Millburn from Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, has fast paced direction by Eric Ankrim, some excellent tap ensembles choreographed by Josh Rhodes, sleek sets by Matthew Smucker and colorful costumes by David C. Woolard. Charlie Morrison's snazzy high-tech lighting is a major asset, as is the excellent sound design by Paper Mill regular Randy Hansen. Musical director Dominick Amendum kept cast and orchestra in perfect synch, and saw to it that every song was lovingly and energetically delivered.

The cast of Elf at Paper Mill 2014Heidi Blickenstaff, Robert Cuccioli, Jake Faragalli, James Moye and Kate Fahrner in Paer Mill's Elf.

In the exhausting title role of Buddy the Elf, James Moye manages to exude believable innocent charm for two an a half hours -- no small accomplishment. Broadway veteran Robert Cuccioli is perfect as Buddy's harassed and cynical father, Heidi Blickenstaff and young Jake Faragalli are delightful as Buddy's stepmother and half brother, and Paul C. Vogt is a comic pleasure as Santa Claus, who serves as the show's narrator. Kate Fahrner is charming as the girl Buddy falls for, and the entire ensemble keeps the holiday cheer flowing strong throughout -- the tap numbers are so well staged that even the hopelessly entitled "Sparklejollytwinklejingley" (I'm not kidding -- that's what they call it) turns into a major audience pleaser.

I will admit that I walked into this production feeling just a trifle Scrooge-ish. All the holiday advertising and Black Friday sales were starting to get to me. But Paper Mill's Elf got me giggling from the get go, and kept me laughing and smiling for two and a half happy hours. And I happened to wind up sitting next to a ten year old who literally wound up bouncing and even dancing in his seat -- and that kind of jubilation is always a joy to see.

No, Elf will never rank among the all-time classics of the musical stage -- but it does rate as a fine way to boost your Christmas spirits.

This production runs through Jan. 4, 2015.

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