Friday, December 14, 2012

5th Avenue Shows its’ True Elf

Buddy (Matt Owen) and company of ELF the Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka

Every year, the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle has a tradition of performing a family-friendly holiday show. This year, it’s “Elf-The Musical.” The original show is currently playing on Broadway, but the producers of that production have graciously given exclusive rights to the 5th Avenue to be the only other theatre in the country to produce the holiday hit. That shows how much clout the West Coast theatre has. Fortunately, the 5th is doing the show proud.

L-R Jovie (Kendra Kassebaum) and
Buddy (Matt Owen)
Based on the Will Ferrell comedy movie of the same name, “Elf” is a story about Buddy, a human who was raised by a family of elves. (To my knowledge it is not based on a true story.) Eventually, Buddy figures out that he isn’t like the rest of the elves and he finds out the truth – that his mother passed away many years ago but his father is alive and well living in New York. Buddy makes the trip down south to meet this man and find out who he really is. That’s pretty much it. A simple plot with a lot of comic potential.

Buddy (Matt Owen) and the company of ELF – the Musical 
If you have seen the movie and loved it, you won’t be disappointed with the stage version. The story is basically the same, and keeps many of the best lines, but it is also different enough to be its’ own show. Matt Owen plays Buddy flawlessly. He was last seen on the 5th Avenue stage as Will Parker in “Oklahoma!” Here, he’s charming and silly but not too much of either. The perfect stage version of Ferrell. Kendra Kassebaum plays Jovie, Buddy’s love interest, a woman who works as an elf at the downtown Macy’s store. The ying to Buddy’s yang…in his eyes anyway. The two couldn’t be more opposite, and yet perfect for each other. (The role will be played by Kirsten deLohr Hellend on December 27 till the close of the show.)

L-R Buddy (Matt Owen), Santa (Seán G. Griffin),
Michael (Grayson Smith), Walter (Allen Fitzpatrick),
and Emily (Kim Huber) 
Walter Hobbs and his wife Emily (Buddy’s father and step mother) are played by Allen Fitzpatrick and Kim Huber respectively. Walter is a successful children’s book publisher who is going through a rough patch. His latest book actually got printed with four blank pages. Understandably, he is under a lot of stress. The last thing he needs right now is a  grown man in tights claiming to come from the North Pole and state that he is Walter’s long lost son. Meanwhile, Walter’s other son, Michael (played by both Noah Barr and Grayson Smith), who doesn’t get much attention from his father, could use a new step brother.

L-R Deb (Jessica Skerritt) and Buddy (Matt Owen)
Rounding out the cast is Santa himself (played by the legendary Sean G. Griffin) and Deb, (Jessica Skerritt), Walter’s secretary. Skerritt is a hoot in this role, which is much larger than it is in the movie. A lot more fun too. Owen and Skerritt make a great team. The 5th should take note of this.

Finally, the large ensemble includes a mix of talented and favorite Seattle actors including Greg McCormick, Gabriel Corey, Brandon O’Neal and Cynthia Jones. These guys transform from elves into office workers, sidewalk Santas and many other characters.

L-R Mr. Greenway (Nick DeSantis, seated) listens to a pitch
from Walter Hobbs (Allen Fitzpatrick, seated on table),
and his sons Michael (Grayson Smith) and Buddy (Matt Owen).
“Elf” is heavy on gimmicks – in a good way. First, the elves play their parts on their knees with pointy shoes attached to make them look much smaller than Buddy. Later, Santa flies by on his sleigh leaving more than one person asking, “how did they do that?”

To make the show complete, the original music by Matthew Sklar fits the show perfectly and none of the songs feel like an afterthought. The show’s opening number, “Christmastown” sings of the joys of living on the North Pole. Buddy sings about the “World’s Greatest Dad.” Walter and company sing about the hectic work day in “In the Way” and a bunch of disgruntled Santas lament that “Nobody Cares About Santa” anymore. Each song is bouncy and light, keeping the show entertaining for all ages.

L-R The Store Manager (Cynthia Jones) and Buddy (Matt Owen)
The only negative thing that can be said about the production is that it features some innuendo and mild language that isn’t necessary in a family production. The great thing about the movie version of “Elf” is that it is completely squeaky clean and Buddy seems genuine and innocent. Here, Buddy says a few off color lines that give the character a creepy feel, but only for a few moments.

“Elf” continues through New Year’s Eve. The 5th Avenue Theatre is located at 1308 5th Avenue, Seattle 98101. Performances are at various times, so please check the theatre’s website for the schedule. There is no performance on December 25th for obvious reasons. Tickets start at $43 and can be purchased online or by calling 206.625.1900. (Originally posted on Examiner.com)


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