Waiting breathlessly for live theatre? Well, wait no longer, Toby’s Dinner Theatre is fully open with its imaginative production of “Elf The Musical.” The book is by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. The production is directed and choreographed by Mark Minnick, under the artistic direction of Toby Orenstein. It was originally set to open November 6, 2020 and run through the holiday season. Opening this summer, however, allows audiences to celebrate Christmas in July and helps us to forget the heat. “Elf The Musical” is great fun no matter what time of year.
The musical is adapted from the movie “Elf” starring Will Ferrell. The musical farce played on Broadway during the holiday seasons of 2010-11 and 2011-12. It later played in London’s West End in 2015-16, as well as having several touring productions.
The plot follows much of the movie. Buddy Hobbs, (Jeffrey Shankle), a young orphan, climbed in Santa’s (DeCarlo J. Raspberry) bag of gifts and wound up in the North Pole where he was raised by Santa and Mrs. Claus (Kalen Robinson) and their elves. He grows up to find he is really human and goes back to New York to find his real father. Buddy meets his real father, Walter (David Bosley-Reynolds) and his son, Michael (Luka Van Herksen). (Note: Michael Hobbs is played by Van Herksen alternating with Patrick Ford and Cato Huza.) In the musical version, Santa is the narrator and the show updates the story a little. Santa now has a cell phone and an iPad and his sleigh is not guided by reindeer due to protests by PETA.
“Elf The Musical” is a great way to spend a warm summer night. It recalls the joys of the holiday season and being with those we love — things we all missed during this past year. It also brings back the thrill of live theatre.
Shankle makes a perfect Buddy the Elf. His wonderful voice — especially in his solo, “World’s Greatest Dad” and in other numbers with his fellow cast members — helps create the joy of the show. Shankle displays his versatility as a performer by making this extremely naïve adult believable.
Raspberry also never gives a disappointing performance. As Santa and the manager at Macy’s, his rich modulations remind me how much I missed live, musical theatre. Raspberry and Shankle open the show with “Happy All the Time,” and we know right away we are in for a treat. In the number, “Nobody Cares about Santa Claus,” Raspberry, in his role as the manager, along with Buddy and the Fake Santas (Justin Calhoun, David James, Shane Lowry, and AJ Whittenberger), perform one of those great ensemble numbers that we all count on from Toby’s.
MaryKate Brouillet is Buddy’s love interest, Jovie, a pretty Macy’s employee he meets while working there. Brouillet’s vocal, “Never Fall in Love (With an Elf)” is both tender and funny. Brouillet turns in an excellent performance.
As Buddy’s family, Bosley-Reynolds give another standout performance as the dad to both Buddy and Michael (Luka Van Herksen), as does Janine Sunday as his wife, Emily. I particularly like her in the number, “In the Way,” with Kalen Robinson (as Deb), Sunday and Van Herksen. I also really enjoyed Sunday and Van Herksen in ‘I’ll Believe in You” and in Act II, ‘”There is a Santa Claus.” There is great warmth between the mother and young son who have been abandoned by Walter, a workaholic.
Robinson brings a zest to her roles as Deb and Mrs. Santa. Whenever she performs, she brightens the stage and has a spectacular vocal range.
Lowry and Calhoun stand out as the beleaguered employees of Walter Hobbs, Chadwick, and Matthews. The rest of the fine cast include James as Mr. Greenway/Charlie, Alexis Krey as Tiara, Crystal Freeman as Macy’s Saleswoman, Whittenberger as Jim/Boy, and Patricia Targete as Charlotte/Waitress. All are part of the ensemble which includes playing Santa’s elves in that delightful opening.
Minnick’s direction and choreography are top notch. He grabs us with “Happy All the Time,” using ingenious elf carts and the jolly Christmas tune, “Sparklejollytwinklejingly.” The dancing and direction in “Nobody Cares About Santa Claus” is a reason to hurry back from intermission.
The music that night was astutely led by the conductor, Nathan Scavilla. Ross Scott Rawlings’ musical direction and orchestrations are flawless. Thanks goes to John Pantazis for sound design. The music never overwhelms the theatre but blends with the singing and dancing.
The scenic and lighting design is by David A. Hopkins (who also provides some special sound effects). The design is clever and conveys the warmth of the season from the time you enter the theatre to the time you leave. The elves’ carts are technical masterpieces — and watch out for that flying sleigh! Janine Sunday not only gives a fine performance, but is the costume coordinator. This show has many unusual costumes, elves and Santas for example. It also takes place in the winter. So, coats, hats and boots are all there and look wonderful on-stage, including some “ice skates.” (The costumes are based on the original design of Gregg Barnes, but Sunday’s touch, especially the quick changes, is unmistakable.) The transitions from Christmastown in the North Pole, to Macy’s, to the Tavern on the Green in Central Park, plus several other locales, are made seamlessly and allow us to accept the often hard to believe plot of the show via the talents of Hopkins and Sunday.
“Elf The Musical” is a great way to spend a warm summer night. It recalls the joys of the holiday season and being with those we love — things we all missed during this past year. It also brings back the thrill of live theatre. The beaming faces of the children and the smiles of the audience reminds us of how glad we are to be back at Toby’s watching another wonderful production.
Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 20 minute intermission.
“Elf The Musical” runs until August 22, 2021 at Toby’s Diner Theatre at 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia Maryland. For tickets go to this link. Toby’s is now serving its traditional buffet before the show. Staff members continue to wear masks for your protection. However, other restrictions have been lifted as per the governor’s orders.
Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s next production will be “Godspell” opening August 27, 2021.