When you put together creators of some of Broadway’s funniest shows ever, you know there will be a quite a few laughs involved.
The new musical Elf played Broadway this time last year and made quite a splash with a limited nine week run. Elf is not the first musical to play a fixed season on Broadway over Christmas. After all, there are all those tourists seeing shows, especially over the Christmas/New Year fortnight, when there is so much demand that most producers raise tickets exorbitantly.
The sinister but loveable Grinch came to town in both 2006 and 2007 with the musical Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Special union agreements allowed the show to play as many as 15 shows per week, with cast members rotating through the various session times. Scenic design featured traditional illustrations from the beloved Dr Seuss books.
For Christmas in 2008 and 2009, New York had a White Christmas. White Christmas the musical that is, based in the movie of the same name and featuring a score full of Irving Berlin classics. “I Love A Piano” must surely be one of the best tap numbers ever seen on Broadway. The show had played other US cities, and even had a cast recording, before finally making it to the Great White Way.
Man in Chair could take or leave Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2007) but adored White Christmas (2009).
Elf is based on the 2003 movie, in which Will Ferrell starred as the adorable Buddy. Raised at the North Pole, Santa allows Buddy to go to New York City to look for his father, Walter Hobbs. Walter, funnily enough, does not like Christmas but Buddy soon brings cheer to Walter, his wife and son, and all the audience as well.
Elf had top pedigree book writers penning the jokes. Thomas Meehan wrote Annie, and co-wrote the massive laughfest The Producers. Bob Martin wrote, and starred (as none other than Man in Chair), in The Drowsy Chaperone. Martin, in fact, was also a character in Drowsy – the fiancé Robert Martin. The hit show started life as a skit for Martin’s stag night.
Elf director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw was also director/choreographer of The Drowsy Chaperone, as well as choreographer of the Tony winning hit Spamalot. Listen to your cd of Thoroughly Modern Millie again – that’s Nicholaw doing the speed tapping in “The Speed Test”.
Another Drowsy connection is the fabulous Beth Leavel, who won a Best Featured Actress Tony for her droll turn as the titular chaperone. Leavel plays Walter’s wife Emily in Elf. Another ‘name’ in the cast of Elf was George Wendt, Norm from Cheers, who played, you guessed it, Santa.
The songs of Elf, by relative newcomers Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Berguelin (lyrics), were praised for avoiding the traps of sentimental and cuteness. The cast recording is very catchy on first listen, with clever lyrics that reward subsequent playings.
Sadly, there is no special Christmas musical in New York this year, but the tradition is sure to pick up again at some stage. With all these great Christmas-themed musicals, it’s amazing that no one has staged any of them in Australia to capitalize on the season. Maybe producers are waiting for a show about blowflies, barbeques and test cricket.
Read the New York Times review of Elf.
Watch the trailer for Elf:
Watch the magical opening number of Elf:
Man In Chair previously presented: