Broadway Palm owner Will Prather has wanted to bring “Elf” to his Fort Myers dinner theater for years. Now it’s finally arrived.
Was it worth the wait?
Let’s put it this way: The musical is definitely on my “Nice List.”
Directed by Paul Bernier, “Elf” is a blast of pure Christmas fun with happy-all-the-time elves, dazzling costumes, infectious holiday merriment and a family that desperately needs to rediscover its Christmas spirit. There’s even a chorus of line-dancing, finger-snapping department-store Santas.
Yeah, sure, the musical has some problems. It drags a little in the middle of Act 1, and many of the songs just aren’t memorable.
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But forget about all that. Bernier and company make up for those shortcomings with a sleigh-full of great performances, strong voices and boundless energy. If you haven’t found your Christmas spirit yet — and yeah, I know, it’s still November — this irresistible show should do the trick.
Based on Will Ferrell’s hit 2003 movie, “Elf the Musical” tells the story of a human baby who accidentally stows away in Santa’s bag and ends up getting raised in the North Pole as an abnormally tall elf. When Buddy learns the truth — and suddenly understands why he stinks at toymaking — he sets off for New York City to meet his real dad (who has no idea he has another son).
As Buddy, actor Chris Duir is as perfect as you could want. His gangly frame looks hilarious in that green elf suit (courtesy of costume designer John White), and Duir brings a sweet, childlike enthusiasm to his fish-out-of-water elf, who just doesn’t get the frosty cynicism he encounters in New York City.
Duir’s Buddy radiates a delirious joy that’s downright infectious, and it’s thrilling to watch him turn his dad’s button-down office into a full-on Christmas party on the song “Just Like Him.” You can’t help but love the guy and hope everything turns out well for him (of course it does. It’s a Christmas show).
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The rest of the cast pales in comparison to Duir’s all-in performance, but they still turn in strong performances all around, including Ilana Gabrielle as icy love interest Jovie, who quickly warms to Buddy’s charms; Christopher Russell as Buddy’s grumpy, stressed-out father; and Victor Legarreta as the show’s narrator, a warm and lovable Santa Claus, who’s not above dropping a few Fort Myers references into his narration. By the way, that’s Legarreta’s real wife, Kelly Legaretta, playing a slightly saucy Mrs. Claus.
“Elf” starts with a bang on “Christmastown,” a North Pole number with high-energy elves dancing on their knees to Amy Marie McCleary’s sparkling choreography and still managing to make it look easy (I’m sure it wasn’t. In a word: Ouch).
Other terrific moments include Buddy romping around his dad’s office, turning shredded paper into snow and spreading the Christmas spirit on “Just Like Him”; those department-store Santas, snapping their fingers, chair-dancing, shimmying and lamenting the butt-shaped imprints on their laps on “Nobody Cares About Santa; Buddy’s super-catchy book pitch on “The Story of Buddy”; and the sweet moment toward the end when Buddy’s girlfriend Jovie finally learns how to sing (I admit it: I teared up a little there).
It’s all you’d hope for and more from an “Elf” musical – except, perhaps, for a few key scenes missing from the movie, including Peter Dinklage’s hilariously ticked-off children’s author Peter Finch.
So should you skip this holiday musical? Here’s an answer from the show’s chorus-full of Santas: “Ho-ho-ho, no-no-no!”
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter), @crunnells1 (Instagram)
If you go
What: “Elf the Musical”
When: Now through Dec. 25
Where: Broadway Palm dinner theater, 1380 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers
Info: 278-4422 or broadwaypalm.com