It was well worth the one-hour drive to Bloomington Thursday to see a preview of “Elf the Musical,” presented by Constellation Stage & Screen at the historic Buskirk-Chumley Theatre. It has been some time since I reviewed shows at Cardinal Stage which merged with Bloomington Playwright’s Project and Pigasus Institute in March, so it was with considerable interest that I was drawn to see this third show in Constellation’s inaugural season. Plus, it was a sentimental journey returning to the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre, formerly the Indiana Theatre, which I first visited in 1983 when I saw “A Christmas Story” there.
“Elf” is based on the 2003 film of the same title, starring Will Ferrell. The stage musical adaptation which premiered on Broadway in 2010 has a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. The story centers on Buddy Hobbs, an orphan child, who mistakenly crawls into Santa Claus’ bag of gifts and is taken back to the North Pole where he is raised as an elf by Santa and his elves. Once Buddy discovers that he’s a human being, and with Santa’s blessing, he departs for New York City to search for his father, Walter Hobbs. After determining that his dad is on the naughty list and that his stepbrother Michael doesn’t believe in Santa, Buddy makes it his business to win over his birth family and help New York City embrace the true meaning of Christmas.
The director of “Elf” was Richard Roland, assistant professor of theatre, drama, and contemporary dance and head of the BFA Musical Theatre Program at Indiana University. Having favorably reviewed “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” in this column this past November, I anticipated that Roland would bring his special touch to this production, so I was not surprised that it was as dazzling as I imagined it would be.
Polished and professional, the show featured a cast of triple-threat performers who maintained an energy and vitality that was off the charts. The leads, all of whom excelled, included New York-based actor and IU musical theatre alum Luke Major as Buddy, Indy actor Eric Olson as Walter, opera singer Amanda Lawson (Biggs) as Emily, and young Reid Walz as Michael.
Highlights of this irresistible show included exceptional numbers choreographed by Lauren Haughton-Gillis, showcasing an ensemble that brilliantly shined, especially in “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” and “Nobody Cares About Santa.”
Standing out was Major who conveyed just the right mix of sweetness and guilelessness as Buddy and who charmed in his solo of “World’s Greatest Dad.” Stopping the show with formidable vocals and stage presence was IU musical theatre alum Michelle Zink-Muñoz as Buddy’s love interest, Jovie.
Musical director Brandon Magid led the nine-piece pit orchestra, which was among the finest I have heard accompanying any musical in Central Indiana. It’s not surprising considering that IU is home to the prestigious Jacobs School of Music, where some of the musicians are students.
Responsible for the show’s elevated production values was an impressive creative team consisting of scenic designer C. David Higgins, lighting designer Keith A. Truax, sound designer Travis White, and costume designer extraordinaire Brittany Kugler. Their combined contributions made for top-notch theatricality.
For those of you who are my Indy readers, I highly recommend that you see this feel-good holiday fare, presented by a professionally managed, high quality community theatre. And while you are at it, make a night of it like I did. As an added treat, I joined recently retired friends who live in Bloomington for dinner at Farm Bloomington American Restaurant, a popular spot just steps away from the theatre, prior to us attending the show. By the way, with the construction of the final leg of I-69 south of Indy finished, the drive down is more convenient than ever and now merely a short jaunt for an evening of relaxing dining and entertainment.
For tickets and information about “Elf the Musical” which runs through Dec. 31, visit seeconstellation.org.