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Elf - The Musical
Launceston Musical Society
Princess Theatre

December 16th, 2022

Since its inception into the “Christmas movie classic” canon nearly twenty years ago, Will Ferrell and New Line Cinema’s 2003 feature film Elf, has become a staple for families and Christmas lovers to stick on and enjoy as the nuts are roasting on an open fire. Launceston Musical Society’s decision to bring the Tasmanian premiere of Elf – The Musical to the Princess Theatre stage in December, brings the community together for Christmas and distributes the Christmas cheer and spirit the film endows, albeit with a little more cheese, to the Launceston theatre family.

The story of Elf is well known now, A human boy crawls into Santa's sleigh one Christmas Eve and returns with him to the North Pole where he is taken in and raised by the elves. But Buddy (as he is affectionately named) is innocent and naïve to the obvious differences between him and the elves (most notably that he is much taller than the elves), that he doesn’t know he is a human. Upon his discovery that he is different, Santa directs him to go to New York City to find his father, a grumpy businessman called Walter Hobbs. Like a backwards and more childlike Home Alone 2, Buddy gets into all sorts of mischief while trying to connect with his father and his new family and discovers the meaning of love, family, and reconciliation. This plot is maintained in the stage production, except it is enriched with a fun score, lots of pantomime Christmas cheer and glorious dance numbers that make the production a delight.

Michael Ballard as Buddy is a great lead, bringing an unadulterated harmlessness to the role. His energy is boundless and his vocal performance polished, but he did seem to slide occasionally into pantomime, which lacked the same charm of the source material. Phoebe Ketchell plays Jovie, the love interest of Buddy, in her first musical outside of college.  Her vocals were one of the strongest in the cast, her solos seemingly effortless. Unfortunately, maybe attributed to opening night jitters, her performance lacked the same spark and energy to match Buddy and compete with her co-stars.

The supporting characters provided some of the more memorable performances with Freddy Todman as Walter Hobbs issuing us with a fantastic portrayal of the grumpy old businessman, obsessed with his work and a real “bah humbug” about Christmas. His wealth of experience in the theatre produces a distinguished performance and having such expertise on stage elevated the cast, especially those who worked directly with him, to great heights. Rebecca Gee as Walter’s wife, Emily Hobbs and Georgie Todman as Walter’s secretary Deb, play off Walter to great effect and provide the perfect foil to Walter’s gruffness. Special mention must go to Georgie Todman, whose hilarious portrayal of the “New Yorker” secretary, provided us with many genuine moments of belly laughs.

However, the performance that surprised me the most was in fact, the entire ensemble. They lit up the stage, and turned what could have been a rather static stage picture into one full of life and vitality. There were lovely little moments of comedy, (Yossi Van Den Berg as the Macy’s store manager, Jordan Moss as Mr Greenway, and the entire abundance of Fake Santa’s), that presented us with one of the stronger ensembles of the year.

The formation of an almost completely fresh faced production team, with first time director Lauchlin Hansen, choreographer Bianca King and vocal director Travis Hennessey coming together with musical director and president Andy Prideaux, have assembled a show fitting of a return to the Princess Theatre stage after a seven-year absence. There were a few hit and miss directing choices throughout; the underutilisation of space in some scenes and too much in others plus an unusual “Les Mis” inspired ending to Act 1 that confusingly switched genres; but for me, the real standout performer for the show was Bianca King and her choreography.

I’m not a proficient or trained dancer by any means, so I'm not always competent at assessing good or bad choreography. I personally think that choreography should be used to add another layer to the work that communicates an idea, and not just be a troupe running on to dance. However, this choreography converted me; The use of space in all the dance numbers was impressive and every dance had a uniqueness to it. Nothing seemed repeated, and incredibly, didn’t seem like I had seen it on stage before. From elves opening the show dancing on their knees (in genuinely one of the most charming, smile-inducing dances I've seen on the Princess Theatre stage in a long time) to the Fake Santa’s dancing a sad conga line and then whacking there toy sacks on the ground. Even the fabulous snow fight in the office, had something uniquely refreshing about it and I honestly believe this could be the best choreography of the year. I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

Overall, Elf – The Musical, loses a little bit of the silliness that the film has and replaces it with a little cheesier Christmas spirit, but for those that love the film or want to get into the Christmas spirit early, this is for you, A delightful show for the whole family. It runs only one more week, so don’t be a cotton-headed ninny-muggins and miss out, buy your tickets, and support great community theatre.

Review by Matt Taylor

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