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Theater Review: Elf The Musical

While driving to the Historic Iao Theater to catch the opening night of “Elf- The Musical,” there was Christmas music playing on the radio. Since it was only the day after Thanksgiving, it felt a little early, even for someone like myself who loves the holiday season. Nevertheless, while my turkey leftovers remain stacked high and won’t be consumed anytime soon, I welcomed the onslaught of “holly jolly” radio tunes. Likewise, once I arrived at the theater and sat in my seat, I wasn’t struck by deja vu as much as a genuine feeling of welcoming, both for Christmastime and a second helping of “Elf The Musical.” I saw it last year but, since I liked it even better the second time, I’m glad I caught up with it again.

The story remains the same from the previous production, as well as the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy: Buddy the Elf (played by Ricky Jones) lives an ecstatically happy existence working for Santa Claus (Francis Tau’a) in his North Pole workshop. One of Buddy’s colleagues (who is fed up with his unflappable demeanor and falling behind at work) reveals the obvious truth that he is a human and not an elf. Buddy goes ballistic. Santa suggests that Buddy travel to New York, where he reunites with Walter Hobbs (Dale Button), his estranged father, who’s a workaholic businessman and not at all happy to meet him.

PC: Jack Grace
PC: Jack Grace

Along the way, Buddy falls in love with a Macy’s worker (Hoku Pavao Jones), enchants Walter’s wife (Lina Krueer) and son (Robert Browning) and inspires everyone he encounters to embrace their inner elf.

Last year, I wrote that Jones’ performance was “merrily deranged.” That’s still true, though another word I’d like to add is extraordinary. His work overflows with comic inspiration and is fueled by a bottomless well of energy (and maple syrup). The role must be exhausting to play but Jones makes it look like he’s winging it the whole time, as his interpretation of the daffy character always seems organic and never rote. Jones is consistently funny and heartfelt, creating an original interpretation that in no way channels Ferrell’s iconic film role.

PC: Jack Grace
PC: Jack Grace

Ms. Jones is terrific as Jovie, providing an emotional center and making her character, as funny as she is, seem plausible (although, really, who would wait two and half hours for a date to show up? Just asking). Likewise, Button plays Hobbs in such a grounded manner, he makes the character’s merry progression seem real. Krueer and Browning are wonderful together and make their shared moments on stage (particularly “I’ll Believe in You”) stand out. Tau’a is still a hoot as Santa Claus, making jolly ole’ saint nick a Carroll O’Conner-type with many of the show’s best lines.

Another MVP cast member returning from last year is Lee Garrow as Hobbs’ Scrooge-like boss, Mr. Greenway. Sporting a colorful vocalization and a fittingly Looney Tunes demeanor, Garrow is simply dazzling. As Hobb’s boardroom brain stormers, Jim Oxborrow and Russ Taft amusingly play dumb very well (yes, I mean that as a compliment- they’re both very funny). The only cast member who manages to steal scenes from Jones (not an easy feat) and Garrow is the very young and stupendously adorable Finn Pavao Jones, who turns up in the final scene as…oh, I shouldn’t give that away.

PC: Jack Grace
PC: Jack Grace

The entire ensemble cast is charming and invests giddy conviction to their roles. Alexis Dascoulias’ direction gives every scene and musical number the right amount of mirth and focus, while Caro Walker’s vibrant sets create a candy-colored wonderland. The orchestra, conducted by Stephen Dascoulias, sounded robust and, from start to finish, it was hard for me to stop smiling.

If you already caught the show last year, I recommend seeing it again. Among the little things that stood out: the effect of Santa flying away at the end is better executed this year, Jones’ “Carol of the Bells” rendition belongs in a time capsule and ace choreographer Erin Kowalick made me contemplate how tricky it must be to tap dance in elf shoes.

Is “Elf The Musical” now an annual event at the Historic Iao Theater? If it means Jones will keep returning to the role (in the way Hal Holbrook never stopped playing Mark Twain), then count me in. A show this delightful, hilarious and knowingly goofy deserves to become a mainstay. Many in the audience had light up hats and attire they purchased before the show or brought back from the previous year. Only on Maui could “The Rocky Horror Show” AND “Elf The Musical” become cult favorites in the same theatre!

Elf The Musical runs from Nov. 27th-Dec. 13th 2015 at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are available online at www.mauionstage.com or by calling 808.242.6969.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II
Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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