Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Elf the Musical

Musical Theatre Southwest
Review by Rob Spiegel

The Cast of Elf the Musical
Photo by Jason Ponic Photography
The 2003 Christmas film Elf, directed by John Favreau and starring Will Farrell, has reached holiday classic status in recent years, often appearing on top 10 lists of favorite Christmas movies. This year you can find it on the big screen at discount movie theaters in Albuquerque, one of the few holiday films that get repeated movie-house viewings.

The musical version of Elf was nearly inevitable. Elf the Musical is one of the few non-Disney properties that can be presented on stage like a Disney musical. It has all the magic, except for the princess. The musical captures the essence of the story from the film, with a few missing scenes and a few added. The music is by Matthew Sklar, with lyrics by Chad Beguelin and a book adapted by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan. The musical ran on Broadway in the Christmas seasons of 2010-11 and 2012–13, in the West End, and through several touring productions.

The premise of the story is that an innocent dupe is let loose in the world, trying to figure out the complicated interactions and concerns of adults and big-city modernity. A baby inadvertently climbs into Santa's bag while Santa is dropping off toys. When Santa returns to the North Pole, the baby climbs out of his sack. With no way of knowing who he belongs to, Santa's elves raise him as Buddy (Danny McBride), one of their own.

One day, when Buddy is a grown man, Santa determines that Buddy has a father who is still alive. Walter Hobbs (Robert Landry) works at the Empire State Building publishing children's books. Santa sends Buddy off to find his father, and that's when the hijinks begin. Buddy's naiveté makes him the butt of jokes, but it also makes him improbably endearing. Buddy is one of my favorite fictional characters. He has no capacity to understand even simple complexity, but he sees the world from a place of love and, ultimately, his pure heart changes those who fall into his sphere.

There are complications galore with Buddy and his newfound family, and a song for each complication. Buddy's dad is as uptight as Buddy is free. When he gets a job at Macy's, Buddy finds Jovie (Amy Carter), a girl he adores. He has no idea how to relate to her, but his bumbling and heartfelt attempts to connect crack her cynical defenses. Buddy's young half-brother Michael (Allen Dominguez) has never experienced the magic of believing in Santa. Buddy is a friend of Santa's. How's that for proof?

This production by Musical Theatre Southwest is a delight, in large measure because of the inspired performance by Danny McBride as Buddy. Just as Will Ferrell was oddly perfect in the film, I can't imagine this production without McBride. To say he disappears into the role is not strong enough. He becomes Buddy in his very essence, from the skin on through to the heart. There is clearly a sweet child inside McBride that has been yearning to be unleashed, and now it gets to take center stage and explode in all its captivating glory.

There are many other terrific players in this energetic cast. Robert Landry is appropriately stiff as Mr. Webb. Megan McCormick is lovely as his wife, who just wants her husband to relax for a minute. And Allen Dominguez is a powerhouse in a small package as their son Michael. Beware any actor who shares the stage with Dominguez—you can't take your eyes off this kid. Angela Alley zings pizazz into the role of Deb, the office worker who struggles to stay bright under the dark cloud of Webb's gloominess.

Remember, this is a musical. But the music is relatively nondescript and most of the songs are forgettable. They don't so much tell the story as decorate the surroundings. Yet they do elevate the action, even without standouts in melody or lyrics. Then along comes the voice of Amy Carter as Jovie, a clear bell of musicality every time she sings. With no live orchestra to pump the drama, Carter uses her beautiful tones to bring the music to the center of the story when it's her turn to light up and sing.

Director Zane Baker keeps the action popping throughout. He's supported by a lovely set designed by Wendie and Mike Carter, terrific costumes by Joseph Gurule, musical direction by Shelly Andes, and excellent lighting by Joel McKenzie. Choreographers Jackie Oliver and Tom Porras do a commendable job keeping the ensemble jumping around the stage—we even get a brief group tap dance.

All told, this production of Elf the Musical is a wonderful holiday treat that is appropriately selling out performance after performance.

Musical Theatre Southwest's Elf the Musical, through December 30, 2018, at the African American Performing Arts Center, 310 San Pedro NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. General admission is $25. Admission for seniors, students, and ATG members is $23, and for children $15. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at