Smiling is my favorite

A fun musical version of Christmas comedy Elf

Buddy the Elf (Alex Limper) and Jovie (Anna Calvert) spread Christmas cheer.

Buddy the Elf (Alex Limper) and Jovie (Anna Calvert) spread Christmas cheer.

Photo by Jennifer Redeker

California Regional Theatre presents Elf the Musical Friday & Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 2 p.m., through Dec. 15.
Tickets: $20-$30
CUSD Center for the Arts
1475 East Ave.

‘The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear.” So says Buddy the Elf, and that’s exactly what the characters in Elf the Musical do.

Those who have seen the movie Elf, starring Will Ferrell, have a good idea of the story line of the musical version. Just add songs and dancing, and you’ve got Elf the Musical—with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and book by Thomas Meehand and Bob Martin. The play premiered in 2010 on Broadway, and is currently being produced by California Regional Theatre at the CUSD Center for the Arts.

Buddy the Elf (played with manic glee by Alex Limper) is an orphan who, as an infant, crawled into Santa Claus’ bag of gifts and inadvertently hitched a ride to the North Pole, where he was raised by elves.

As the play begins, he is realizing that he is simply too big and too inept at making toys to be an elf—that he is, in fact, a human being. At Santa’s urging, he sets off for New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs (Christopher Sullivan), who doesn’t know he has an elfin son and certainly doesn’t want one.

Walter is a workaholic executive who is on the naughty list because he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus (as manifested here by Ron Halvorson, white beard and all). Walter’s wife, Emily (nicely played by Melodie Ellison), and 12-year-old son, Michael (a remarkably talented Nikolas Gephart), are similarly skeptical. Their home is devoid of Christmas decorations. They’ve lost the Christmas spirit.

This is where Buddy comes in. At first the people he meets think this weird man in an elf costume is simply nuts, but gradually his unabashed joy in life and determination to spread Christmas cheer win them over.

The musical carries a PG rating, primarily because it has a few “potty” words and mild adult jokes that go over the heads of most children. It’s recommended for kids 8 and older. I saw the matinee last Sunday (Dec. 8), and most of the large audience in the Center for the Arts was made up of adults accompanied by children. Both age groups seemed to enjoy the show.

As usual for this company, the quality is high. There are six or seven singing roles, and all of the actors are vocally strong, none more so than Limper. As Buddy, he is on stage for nearly the entire play, giving a physically and vocally brilliant musical performance that was one of the best I’ve seen in recent years.

The other actors all have smaller parts and fewer songs, but when their times come to shine, they do so. Credit music director Olivia Cerullo for her skillful coaxing of excellent vocals from the cast.

The Center for the Arts is the most modern and complete theater space in the North Valley, and CRT knows how to make good use of its lighting and sound capabilities. Sarah Shoemaker’s choreography and Brandon Kuiper-Morgan’s lighting design were both excellent.

Director Bob Maness, the driving force behind the CRT, wisely has chosen to purchase a set of rear projection images designed for Elf the Musical that instantly create backdrops for the action happening center stage. The visuals range from a Chinese restaurant, a Central Park scene, a view from the Empire State Building, the North Pole and several more. They gave a welcome depth to the scenic design.