Elf is everything a Christmas story should be, and then some.
It’s delightful, traditional, childlike, innocent and fun. It’s also challenging, complex, iconoclastic, irreverent and sophisticated… how could production set in the North Pole on the one hand, and New York City on the other, have anything but a split personality.
And the performance put on by Chemainus Theatre manages to capture the dual dimensions of this script and do it justice in a thoroughly entertaining way.
I should say at the outset that musicals have never been my thing. But when a show is choreographed, costumed, set and performed with the skill and energy that went into Elf, even grinches like me can get carried away.
The only quibble I had was the acoustics. Sometimes I couldn’t make out the words in the songs. My partner assures me she could hear everything perfectly, so I am forced to admit this might have had more to do with the performance of my eardrums, than with what was emanating from the stage.
Based on a screenplay by David Berenbaum, which in turn was based on a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, this play consciously strikes a balance between entertaining children and adults – without confusing one audience or bemusing other.
That is the most remarkable thing about it. We were fortunate to be seated behind an extended family, that included grandparents, parents and kids ranging in age from about five to perhaps 10 years old.
Everyone seemed to have a great time.
This is the kind of play where the whole cast has to shine to carry it off. The roles of Elf (Andrew Cohen) and Santa (Hal Kerbes) stand out, but everyone sparkled, their singing, dancing and acting carrying the audience along on a happy fantasy.
At points I wondered if the play might not damage that child’s vision of Christmas for some of the younger members of the audience. It exposes the cynical underside of the season bluntly in the person of Mr. Greenway (Scott Walters) a thoroughly jaded publisher of children’s books.
It also features a room full of shabby, department store Santas dining Chinese after their night’s work, and bemoaning the disrespect and disbelief they are forced to endure on Santa’s throne.
In the end, though, belief triumphs – whether that be belief in the real Santa, or in Santa as part of a tradition that has generated constellations of childhood memories.
The message comes through loud and clear in Elf: It’s our own ‘spirit of Christmas’ that buoys Santa’s sleigh through the ‘sparkle, jolly, twinkle, jingley’ night sky every December.