Christmas, of course, seems to get earlier every year; we sure believe in the commercial opportunities of Christmas, if not Father Christmas. Elf, a new musical based on the 2003 film of the same name, wants us to believe in both. On the one hand, it is blatantly cashing in — the production has notoriously set a new high for top ticket prices in the stalls of the Dominion or £240.
On the other hand, however, it also wants us to share in our title character's innocent naivety when, brought up amongst Santa's friendly band of elf helpers in the North Pole, he comes to discover that he's in fact human and goes, now aged 30, on a mission to find his real-life dad, who is grumpily toiling as a publisher of children's books in midtown Manhattan.
But belief in Father Christmas is waning — even the army of stand-in Father Christmases who assemble for Chinese food at the end of their duties in department stores sadly moan that the kids that sit on the knees spend the time texting each other. Father Christmas himself has trouble fuelling his sledge to make his gift deliveries, as it rides on belief in him — and it is so low in Manhattan that he crash-lands in the park.
But even this Father Christmas has gone high-tech: he keeps records of all his gift requests on his iPad. The knowing book of Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin may be saturated with a few too many local Manhattan references — how many Londoners will really care about the location of the Original Ray's Pizza at 6th Avenue and 11th Street? — but there's also some appealing adult wit in it, too.
The score, with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Berguelin, is a bit generic Broadway, but given a punchy rendition from the pit under conductor Stuart Morley. And Morgan Young's production is brightly packaged in a frequently spectacular production that, in addition to lots of place setting video imagery, also includes big set-pieces like a levitating sledge that manages to fly out over the front stalls.
But it's the human dimension — and the elves one — that win the day. A chorus of dancing elves may be a low-tech version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Oompa-Loompa's, but the delightful Ben Forster role brings a goofy charm, physicality and voice to the title role. The beautiful Kimberley Walsh, who finds herself unaccountably stood-up outside Central Park's Tavern on the Green, may be implausibly single but she has a lovely presence. (Her Girls Aloud co-singers whooped and cheered from the stage right box on the opening night).
The high prices may leave a sour taste, but the show is sweetly done.
"Don't come all ye faithful... this show doesn’t so much invoke the festive spirit as market it."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"For all its commercial, even cynical sheen, then, the show taps the essential spirit of Christmas – our need to connect with our families, and our inner kid."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Elf left this Grinch-inclined critic with expectations pleasantly confounded, and full of seasonal good cheer."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
"Efficient, slick, even cynical: Elf is all these. I suppose it will be a success, but it left me a little cold."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail