'Elf' review — the sugary musical doesn’t deliver all the Christmas cheer

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

Christmas is no longer a day-long celebration — the first episodes of Strictly Come Dancing, the John Lewis adverts, and once upon a time The X Factor, usher in festive goodwill from as early as September.

So it’s no surprise then that in November, before the Elf curtain rises, audience members hear a medley of winter songs to get us in “the spirit.” Sadly, this intoxicating spirit doesn't carry forward into the stage action: Elf doesn’t deliver a Christmas snap — it’s like pulling a cracker and ending up with the losing side.

It’s difficult to distance Elf away from the film. Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin’s story still brings Buddy — a human who grew up in the North Pole with Santa’s elves — to the Big Apple in search of his father once more. But, an oafish Santa now narrates Buddy’s story, and he’s more interested in sharing the results of his bets on the Arsenal vs. Liverpool game. Matthew Sklar and Chad Begeulin’s score accompanies the action, and for all its sparkling showbizzy qualtiies, all the forgettable songs blend into one.

Phillip Wm. McKinley fails to inject trademark Elf humour into its iconic scenes. The catchphrases you’ll know and love: the “beef and cheese,” the “smiling’s my favourite,” and the "cotton-headed ninny muggins" insult were thrown away.

Thankfully, Simon Lipkin holds his own as the goofy, spirited Buddy, cartwheeling and worming his way across the stage and into our hearts. It’s a shame then that Elf woefully underutilises its other cast members.

Georgina Castle delivers all the goods as Jovie, but her short stage time shuts down any hope of falling for her and Buddy together. In songs, Rebecca Lock and Logan Clark as Emily and Michael Hobbs shine as the close-knit mother and son, but their limited interactions with Buddy fall flat. And for all Tom Chambers’s charm, his monotone performance as Walter Hobbs does little to bring the family together.

Liam Steel’s choreography pops in all the right places: an elf-based opening number was a right knees up, and he utilises the ensemble into a tinsel-skipping, candy-cane twirling unit. But, just like waiting for a present that isn’t delivered in time for 25 December, boxes reading “Marry Christmas” highlighted a lack of finesse.

Tim Goodchild’s set design stretches like thin wrapping paper in order to cover the vast Dominion space, but it’s mercifully aided by Patrick Woodroofe’s whimsical lighting and projections transporting us from the North Pole to Manhattan in a few moments.

If you’re looking to see Elf because you enjoy the film, you'll walk away with pep in your step. Buddy the Elf is still the Christmas hero we need, and if you still believe, then Santa may fly in his sleigh. But if you’re looking for a musical that leaves you singing loud for all to hear, this may not be what you want under your tree.

Elf is at the Dominion Theatre through 7 January. Book Elf tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Elf the Musical (Photo by Mark Senior)

Originally published on

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