The Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall was alive with holiday cheer last evening as Elf: The Musical flew into town on Santa's sleigh. Elf: The Musical is a new musical comedy that opened on Broadway two short years ago in 2010. Due to its original success, this holiday treat is not only enjoying a limited-engagement revival on the Great White Way this year, but is also touring a select number of cities across the country. Lucky for you, you don't have to travel to New York to see this musical gem as it is right here in Ft. Myers, FL until December 2nd.
Elf: The Musical is based on the wildly popular movie Elf starring Will Ferrell. The story centers on Buddy (Matt Kopec), a gleefully innocent elf who has lived his whole life at the North Pole only to discover one day that he isn't actually an elf at all. Determined to reunite with his real father and spread Christmas cheer to a city full of non-believers, Buddy sets off to NYC with a dream in his heart and a gleam in his eye. Throw in a broad cast of characters, an exciting musical score, and a little flying magic; you have two hours of infectious fun that will leave you in the holiday spirit for weeks to come.
Matt Kopec brings real charm and charisma to the role of Buddy, making the role his own creation rather than a re-hashing of the infamous Will Ferrell's film performance. Children will delight in Kopec's solid physical comedy and adults will long to be a kid again watching his youthful innocence radiate from the stage. While Kopec's vocal performance is solid, he (along with the rest of the cast) continued to fight with the orchestra and sound engineers throughout the evening to find a suitable balance. Kopec soars on the high notes and they do cut through, however the majority of the role's singing requirements fall in a much lower register that simply had no hope of being heard.
Kate Hennies, as Buddy's love interest Jovie, fared better as her crystal-clear voice filled the hall with depth and nuance. Hennies' big second act number "Never Fall in Love" brought down the house. Having seen the original mounting of Elf: The Musical on Broadway back in 2010; I can honestly say that Hennies' vocal performance gives the original Jovie, the great Amy Spanger, a run for her money.
Amongst the talented cast is a number of standout supporting performances that helped keep the evening entertaining. Clyde Voce as the Macy's Store Manager brings a lot of laughs with his Carlton-esque characterization. Jen Bechter as Walter Hobbs' dutiful secretary has instant likeability as she portrays the every-woman role to pitch perfect hilarity. Both Julia Louis Hosack and Connor Barth play the mother-son duo with great ease. There's something very natural and believable about Hosack's maternal presence, while Barth brings real maturity to the stage for his age. One of the highlights of the evening was Hosack and Barth's duet "There is a Santa Claus". Wait for the songs thrilling ending when you think Hosack has gone for the soaring high notes and then you realize it was actually little Barth with more vocal range than you'd think any young boy could have.
The high-energy choreography by Connor Gallagher helps propel the show and is a welcome addition to the sometimes lagging book scenes. With lots of layered movement and streams of garland and ornamants flying high Gallagher provides a feast for the eyes that is both stunning and exciting. While Elf: The Musical is not a perfect show, with some scenes seeming to lack the energy and exuberance of the rest, there is enough whimsy and glee in Gallagher's movement to help the audience forget any restlessness they may have previously felt.
As was mentioned briefly before, the opening night performance was plagued with sound problems. Touring from venue to venue with different sound setups at every location must be a daunting task for any touring company. Especially considering that testing sound levels in an empty performance hall before the audience arrives is never an accurate representation of what the audio needs will be once every seat is filled with a warm sound-absorbing body. That said, it was beyond distracting that you could barely make out any musical text or often any singing at all from the hard-working cast on stage. I'm not sure what the time constraints are for the company upon arrival at each venue, but there needs to be more individualized attention to each actor with their microphone to ensure the best EQ possible.