by Beki Pineda

ELF, THE MUSICAL – Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin; Music by Matthew Sklar; Lyrics by Chad Beguelin; Directed by Gavin Mayer. Produced by the Arvada Center (6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada) through December 23. Tickets available at 720-898-7200 or arvadacenter.org.

Just a brief synopsis for the three people left on Earth who have not seen the original movie of ELF which came out in 2003 and featured Will Ferrell as an orphan who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s big red sack (shameless plug!!) and was accidentally taken back to the North Pole and raised as an elf, despite his size. It soon became apparent because of his height and his inability to speed through toy production that he was different from the other elves. He learns that he is a human love child of a children’s book publisher in New York who doesn’t know he exists. Buddy goes to New York to find his birth father and discovers that his elf-like behavior and attitude are a little much for the hardened New Yorkers to handle. He experiences the expected rejections of some, the unexpected acceptance of others, and the changes of attitude that his unrelenting optimism and positivity inspires in others. A crisis develops which, of course, Buddy defuses and they all lived happily ever after. In a nutshell.

Several things made me happy with this production of ELF. The opening number with the ensemble dressed as elves and dancing on their knees to emphasize their smallness to Buddy’s tallness was cleverly choreographed by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Arvada’s resident choreographer. Kitty’s clever moves, patterns and rhythms have graced the Arvada stage for – dare I say? – decades and have never disappointed. She makes each dancer look accomplished no matter their experience or skill. When the number calls for it, she comes up with entirely new steps and business, as she did for the elves in “Happy All the Time.”

I’m so glad to see that Mark Devine has decided to come back to the stage after a long hiatus during which he was teaching. He appeared in the last Arvada Center musical – MAMA MIA! – and continues his comeback playing Buddy’s surprised father. Another bright spot was the appearance of Leslie Hiatt playing a disgruntled-with-love sales person at Macy’s Department Store where Buddy gets a job while looking for Santa. Her reticence and pessimistic outlook on life and love were a refreshing break from the unrelenting jolly holiday atmosphere of the show It didn’t hurt that she looked very much like Zooey Deschanel who played the role in the movie.

There are three talented young men – Tyler Fruhwirth who was in NEWSIES at Candlelight in the summer of 2018, Austin Golinski, and Harrison Hauptman who was in NEWSIES at Rocky Mountain Rep in 2017 – who rotate through the three young boy parts each night. The night viewed Harrison took the role of Buddy’s half brother and sang his duets (“I Believe in You” and “There is a Santa Claus”) with his stage Mom (Maria Couch) with confidence and quiet professionalism.

Near the end of the evening, it is discovered that Santa’s sled has crashed in Central Park; it is kept afloat by Christmas Spirit and there just wasn’t enough in New York to keep it running. The cast initiated a Peter Pan-like call for belief by singing a Christmas carol and getting Santa off the ground again. Cute scene and, of course, the tech team at the Arvada Center could make it really fly.

There were also a few things that just kind of missed the mark in this production. I recently read an interview in which Lin-Manuel Miranda talked about building HAMILTON and what the production team went through when a scene “just didn’t land. It felt like ELF was having a tough time landing in some cases.

Josh Houghton was brought into town to take on the role of Buddy, the Tommy-Tune-tall singer/dancer Elfin.  For the most part, his energy and the way the role is written carried the day. But other times, it just seemed frenetic and overdone. At times, it seemed he and others in the cast were trying a little too hard to be funny and letting their timing slip, rather than just letting the comedy evolve out of the situation. Knowing that it’s easier to sit in the audience than it is to be up on stage doing your best, I applaud the valiant effort everyone made to bring the script to life.

It’s a kid-friendly show and the night I viewed, there was definitely a larger percentage than usual of young theatre-goers present.

A WOW factor of 8!!