Elf the Musical at DPAC Lacks the Bubbly Magic of the 2003 Will Ferrell Film

DPAC's Dec. 4-9 presentation of Elf the Musical is part of its 2018-19 SunTrust Broadway Series
DPAC's Dec. 4-9 presentation of Elf the Musical is part of its 2018-19 SunTrust Broadway Series
DPAC's Dec. 4-9 presentation of <em>Elf the Musical</em> is part of its 2018-19 SunTrust Broadway Series
DPAC‘s Dec. 4-9 presentation of Elf the Musical is part of its 2018-19 SunTrust Broadway Series

I was hoping for some holiday cheer from Elf the Musical, a child-friendly Christmas spectacle, playing now through Sunday evening at the Durham Performing Arts Center as part of DPAC‘s 2018-19 SunTrust Broadway Series. It’s the story of Buddy, an elf made famous by Will Ferrell in the 2013 movie Elf. Unfortunately, the play lacks the bubbly magic present in Ferrell’s classic film; and I found myself wanting to watch the movie afterwards to capture the Christmas spirit, because unfortunately this show did not satisfy.

In a chestnut shell, Buddy is one of Santa’s elves; and he stands out from the other elves for both his height and his supersized Christmas spirit. Word on the street around the North Pole is that Buddy is really an orphan human baby who climbed into Santa’s toy bag one Christmas eve. When Santa confirms the rumors, Buddy sets out for New York City to find his father. How does Buddy know who and where his father is? Well, Santa told him, because Santa knows everything!

As expected, Buddy’s naïve innocence and his insistence that he is personal friends with Santa is met with disdain when he reaches New York. It doesn’t help that he is wearing green stockings, an elf hat, and pointy shoes. Unfortunately, Eric Williams’ portrayal of Buddy is more annoying than loveable. His father, Walter Hobbs (played by John Adkinson) is a workaholic who can’t be bothered with the holidays. Of course, he thinks Buddy is a crackpot. However, his wife Emily (Caitlin Lester-Sams) and son Michael (Grady Miranda) and are soon taken with Buddy’s enthusiasm. A DNA test confirms Buddy iss family.

Scenic designer Christine Peters’ set is a cartoonish dreamscape of pastels, with buildings leaning over as in a Dr. Seuss book. This fits the Christmas narrative and setting. This is a kids’ story, after all. But the one-dimensional characters lack depth; and although they ultimately regain their Christmas spirit, the thin story line leaves little magic for the grown-ups in the crowd. Santa’s one-dimensional reindeer-less sleigh, which ran on “Christmas spirit,” seems an affront to Kris Kringle, and seemed a clumsy attempt to avoid dealing with getting Santa’s reindeer onto the stage. Adding further insult, the wires that lifted the sleigh off the ground were very visible.

There were some highlights, of course. One of them is Santa. The play is narrated by Santa Claus from his chair in front of his TV. Mark Fishback set just the right tone with his references to local sports (he loves the Blue Devils, to the chagrin of some in the audience), and his offhand humor brought lots of laughs. With a glance at his cocoa mug, he exclaims with a wink that it’s single-malt hot chocolate. Only the best for Santa!

Another standout is Grady Miranda. He was terrific as Michael Hobbs. He was believable as the lonely Michael and his rendition of “I’ll Believe in You” was the best song of the night. For one so young, he has a great stage presence and a voice to match.

Sadly, the this is a big production that tries hard to satisfy, but ultimately falls short. The plot simply seems forced. I think even kids might start to fidget after two hours, 17 songs, and no reindeer.

There will be an "Autism-Friendly Performance" of <em>Elf the Musical</em> at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8th
There will be an “Autism-Friendly Performance” of Elf the Musical at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8th

SECOND OPINION: Dec. 5th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/12/dpacs-elf-is-pure-christmas-magic/.

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents ELF THE MUSICAL at 8 p.m. Dec. 7, 3 and 8 p.m. Dec. 8, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.

TICKETS: $38.50-$148.50. Click here for a Digital Lottery for Rush Tickets.


DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@dpacnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.

Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369510/1732687.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.

SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/elf and https://www.facebook.com/events/269885273572277/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: https://videos.files.wordpress.com/bITVKCrB/elf_tv30_generic-tour_novo_hd.mp4.

DPAC NEWS RELEASES: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/elf-1 and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/dpac-announces-elf-digital-lottery.

2018-19 SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2018-19/season-pricing-2018-19.

THE TOUR: https://elf-musical-tour.com/, https://www.facebook.com/elfthemusicalontour/, https://twitter.com/ElfTheTour, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elf_(Broadway_musical)#Subsequent_Productions.

TOUR CAST: https://elf-musical-tour.com/cast-2/.

CREATIVE TEAM: https://elf-musical-tour.com/creative/.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/directions.

PARKING: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/parking.

NOTE: There will be an Autism-Friendly Performance at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8th. Click here for details.


Elf (2003 film): https://www.wbshop.com/products/elf-dvd (official DVD page), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0319343/ (Internet Movie Database), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/457273/Elf/ (Turner Classic Movies), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elf_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).

Elf the Musical (2010 Broadway musical): https://elf-musical-tour.com/ (official tour website), http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000416 (Music Theatre International), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=488283 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elf_the_Musical (Wikipedia).

Matthew Sklar (music): http://matthewsklar.com/ (official website), http://m.ibdb.com/person.php?id=82828 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Sklar (Wikipedia).

Chad Beguelin (lyrics): http://m.ibdb.com/person.php?id=402892 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chad_Beguelin (Wikipedia).

Bob Martin (book): http://m.ibdb.com/person.php?id=412778 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Martin_%28comedian%29 (Wikipedia).

Thomas Meehan (book): http://m.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8874 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Meehan_%28writer%29 (Wikipedia).


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.