REVIEW: Elf the Musical, Dominion Theatre

While not perfect, the return of this production seems to have a little more depth to it and will leave you feeling warm and cosy.

(c)Mark Senior

I will confess the last time I saw Elf the Musical, I didn’t come away feeling in the festive spirit and wasn’t sure what to expect this time around. But while it is still isn’t perfect, this time around I feel there was a little bit more of a depth emotionally about it that manages to capture the spirit of the film a lot better and the production itself seems to fill the stage at the Dominion in a stronger way too.

Elf follows the story of Buddy, who discovers that he isn’t in fact and so sets out to try and connect with his real dad and family that also consists of step-mum Emily and brother Michael. But of course, things don’t go according to plan, with his dad Walter prioritising work over Christmas and Buddy trying to help Jovie a shop girl who is cynical about Christmas to find her Christmas spirit. What you are left with is an affectionate take on the film that doesn’t stray too far from the original – except to place songs in it at appropriate times.

Philip Wm.McKinley’s production is suitably dazzling visually and certainly sleekly put together, sweeping audiences from the North Pole to New York City in an instant in a clever and magical ways. Thanks to the detailed nature of Tim Goodchild’s fabulous set designs filled with variety to Ian William Galloway’s vibrant video designs this is a production that really surrounds the stage well. The whole atmosphere from start to finish is warm and playful and you would have to have a heart of stone not to fall for the way in which the story unfolds – even if you know the film off by heart.

It does have to be said, I wasn’t particularly won over by Matthew Sklar’s music and Chad Beguelin’s lyrics – which while perky and fun for the most part (Buddy gets the strongest songs), didn’t feel as though they sit quite well within the story. I didn’t leave wanting to sing any of them – but they are certainly family friendly and have good intentions of keeping the audience engaged as the number ‘Sparklejollytwinklejingley’ does.

A lot of the show is very much reliant on the strength of the actor playing Buddy to ensure that the audience truly believes in the story unfolding and in Simon Lipkin, we have a great Buddy. While not quite so over the top as Will Ferrell was, there is a sensitivity and sincerity to his performance that is charming and believable. His interactions with Jovie put a particular smile on my face as you see how he is winning her over, while his comic timing is absolutely spot on (look out for his horror when he finds out his dad is on the naughty list for example). Georgina Castle as Jovie is effective as you see her attitude transform but I feel her character could have been used a little bit more to see this transformation in more detail. Tom Chambers as Walter Hobbs has the most transformative performance, moving from abrupt and detached from family life to acceptance and understanding – it feels like a subtler version of A Christmas Carol.

While the show is not perfect, it does leave audiences believing in the power of Christmas (particularly as Santa flies over the auditorium) and just for a brief time we can all put our troubles aside and just embrace this time of year. You would have to have a heart of stone not to fall for this production.

By Emma Clarendon

Elf the Musical will play at the Dominion Theatre until the 7th January 2023. To book tickets click here.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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