Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Elf The Musical
National Tour
Review by Garrett Southerland

Cody Garcia and Cast
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
It's that time of year to get "Sparklejollytwinklejingley," and the musical Elf, based on the hit 2003 movie, is playing the Durham Performing Arts Center through December 4, telling the story of Buddy (Cody Garcia), a human who stowed away in Santa's (Mark Fishback) bag as a baby and was raised to believe he is one of Santa's little helpers. When Buddy learns his true identity, he sets off on a quest to find his father, a Walter Hobbs (Christopher Robert Smith) who lives in a distant, magical land known as New York City, and who Buddy hopes will give him a family to call his own.

This story yearns to sing. Who can think of a TV Christmas special without a song or two popping into your head? With music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, the score puts a humorous spin on Christmas. While the songs will leave many with a holiday hum in their heart, this reviewer has always thought it odd that two fantastic numbers from the original Broadway production have since been changed out. The original opener, called "Christmastown," is replaced here by the second-rate "Happy All The Time." And the first act finale, a reprise of "World's Greatest Dad," is a replacement for a reprise of the stronger "I'll Believe in You" (a heartfelt song of longing and faith). The book (by Broadway stalwarts Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin) walks a fine line in staying true to the original screenplay by David Berenbaum while adapting to the needs of the stage. The story suffers when major characters such as Walter and Jovie (sung amazingly by Tieisha Thomas) feel neglected, while minor characters are given more stage time.

Sam Scalamoni's direction is jolly and jingly enough but lacks some sparkle and twinkle. Choreography provided by Connor Gallagher feels adequate but uninspired. It is difficult to appreciate a tap-dance number when it is glaringly obvious that no one on stage is wearing tap shoes and they are piping in canned tap sounds. Christine Peter's pop-up book-style scenic design and Gregg Barnes' colorful and cheery costumes are true highlights that help to keep the production from feeling like summer stock. There are some moments of true pleasure; the second act "Nobody Cares About Santa" is a standout. And special mention must be given to the orchestra under the direction of Michael Gildin. They bring Broadway-quality magic to the DPAC pit.

In this non-Equity cast, Cody Garcia looms large in his physical stature as Buddy the elf, but he doesn't capture the full mania and child-like wonder we expect from Buddy. Christopher Robert Smith does what he can with his character of Walter Hobbs, but the musical gives more character development to his wife Emily (a wonderful Caitlin Lester-Sams) and their younger son Michael (a saccharine Jaxon James), who sing the lovely duet "I'll Believe in You." Tieisha Thomas's Jovie is lackluster until she finally gets to sing, waking up the character with her high belt in "A Christmas Song" and later "Never Fall in Love (with an Elf)."

Elf, like so many stage adaptations of movies, is enjoyable enough, but it doesn't equal the magic of the original.

Elf, presented by WRAL Greatest Hits of Broadway, runs through December 4, 2022, at Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC. For tickets and information, please visit, call 919-680-2787, or visit the Ticket Center at DPAC in person. For more information on the tour, visit

Music: Matthew Sklar
Lyrics: Chad Beguelin
Book: Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin
Based on the film written by: David Berenbaum
Director: Sam Scalamoni
Choreographer: Connor Gallagher
Scenic Design: Christine Peters
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design: Paul Miller
Sound Design: Shannon Slaton

Buddy: Cody Garcia
Santa: Mark Fishback
Store Manager: Jerquintez Alonzo Gipson
Michael Hobbs: Jaxon James
Emily: Caitlin Lester-Sams
Mr. Greenway: Bobby Montaniz
Deb: Nakiya Peterkin
Walter Hobbs: Christopher Robert Smith
Jovie: Tieisha Thomas
Ensemble: Shannon Conboy, David Couter, Will Daly, Jo Davis, Nico DiPrimio, Justin Glass, Evan Hussey, TJ Kubler, Juliana Lamia, Ryan Mulvaney, Daniel Pahl, Emily Ann Stys, Emilee Theno, Nicole Zelka, Cait Zuckerman