Theater Review: Pa. Playhouse ‘Elf’ youthful, commendable
The Pennsylvania Playhouse production of “The Happy Elf,” continuing through Dec. 17, is a welcome change from slick traditional Christmas fare. It’s a musical comedy featuring a cast of mostly youthful actors and singers of diverse ages who are definitely full of the holiday spirit.
With music and lyrics by Grammy award-winning composer Harry Connick, Jr., and book by Lauren Gunderson and Andrew Fishman, the local staging uses Connick’s own narration and the musical’s soundtrack laid down by his band for the show. Director and choreographer Bill Mutimer deserves praise for his willingness to tackle “Elf,” with its challenging jazz score and large cast of 24 principals and chorus of elves and townspeople.
Mutimer and the Playhouse also should be commended for giving so many young people the chance to act in major roles on stage. The casts’ give-it-all-you’ve-got efforts were obviously appreciated by the audience at the Dec. 2 performance, on which this review is based.
The hero of the story is Eubie, an ever-jolly elf, played by Eddie Nuber, who can’t get enough of Christmas. “I love Christmas so much I can’t think of anything but Christmas.” he declares.
His child-like enthusiasm for the holiday is tested, however, when he learns the unthinkable. All the people are naughty in a place without Christmas called Bluesville, the lowest town in the world with only 23 seconds of sunlight a day, where the only resource is coal that doesn’t burn.
Elf takes up the challenge, believing in his heart that if he can just restore Christmas and music, the people of Bluesville will be happy and nice again.
Notable among the cast members are Julie Trinidad as Eubie’s girlfriend Gilda, whose spirited singing and dancing lights up her scenes, and Sadie Reese in the nicely-acted role of Molly, the Bluesville mayor’s cynical daughter. Also noteworthy for strong singing voices and acting are Thomas Kennebeck (Norbert), Mark Breiner (Mayor) and Beth Breiner (Gurt).
The chorus of elves gets an “A” for energy and harmony.
No one is given credit in the program for costumes, but the T-shirts with question marks and exclamation points worn in dance scenes are a clever touch. “We never get answers, just the questions.”
While “The Happy Elf” is far from perfect, in the end it became a “Wow! Wow! Wow!” show, complete with snow. The audience had a White Christmas, left with smiles on their faces, a “Merry Christmas to all” on their lips and “We believe” in their hearts. Not a “Bah! Humbug” was heard as they drove out of sight. All’s well that elves well.
Tickets: Pennsylvania Playhouse Box Office, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem; paplayhouse.org; 610-865-1192