George Wendt & Erik Gratton in Elf - The Musical

Review of Elf - The Musical at the Theater at Madison Square Garden

Tom Millward
Tom Millward

"The Story of Buddy the Elf" is back in town and once again delighting New York family audiences this holiday season. One of the main themes of Elf - The Musical is the importance of bringing the Christmas spirit back to a downtrodden, overworked and gloomy population of Americans that we call typical New Yorkers. Well, it does as exactly what it says on the tin, as they say.

If you've been hibernating these past fifteen years (or if you are a direct descendant of Ebenezer Scrooge), then you may not have heard of the hit 2003 comedy film on which this musical is based. The rest of us probably lap up watching Will Ferrell don that beautifully ridiculous green costume every single December. The magical aspect of the musical adaptation, of course, is seeing Buddy come to life in the eyes of the countless children in the audience.

I must admit I had never visited the gargantuan Theater at Madison Square Garden before and I was curious to experience a musical in that setting. With a capacity of around 5,500 - five times larger than a typical theater on Broadway - it certainly offers a unique experience in New York City. The downside is the loss of intimacy and the sensation that you are at a hybrid of some sort of theatre/sporting/teeny-bopper-concert event, with ushers selling candy floss in the aisles that are overcrowded with latecomers and parents constantly taking their children to the restrooms. The upside, however - and this really knocked my bell-jingling socks off - is the enormous sound system that amplifies the live 16-piece orchestra, who are fully visible on the right hand side of the auditorium. Hearing a Broadway score played out so richly at those increased volumes was quite spectacular... Not something I'd wish for at every visit to a Broadway show... But certainly fitting in this venue and something I'd return for next year.

The musical remains mostly unaltered since its Broadway debut in 2010 and revival in 2012, and remains as brightly-colored as a row of frosted pop tarts. The plot is as easy to swallow as Buddy's favorite syrup and follows our leading man on a journey from Christmas Town in the North Pole to New York City to find his biological father - a big-wig businessman in a publishing company for children's books, located in the Empire State Building - who never finds time for his family or Christmas in his busy schedule. Buddy's presence, of course, spreads joy and Christmas cheer to the family, and to the whole of Manhattan, including his love interest - the ever-so-slightly jaded Jovie.

Six-time Emmy Award-nominated "Cheers" star George Wendt reprises his role as Santa Claus and once again creates a familiar and relaxed rapport as he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly. Erik Gratton is working his socks (or green and yellow-striped tights) off as Buddy. He may not be hitting every single note on the higher end of the vocal register during the musical numbers, but his joyous portrayal of innocence and sincerity is infectious and his comic timing is right on cue. There are also strong performances from Cynthia Ferrer and Trey Middleton as Emily and Michael Hobbs, with their heartfelt letter to Santa (the musical number "I'll Believe in You") a personal highlight. Musical theatre aficionados will probably warm more to Veronica J. Kuehn's rendition of "Never Fall in Love (With an Elf)" or the bluesy "Nobody Cares About Santa", but in the end, it's the glittering, show-stopping numbers like "The Story of Buddy the Elf" and "Sparklejollytwinlejingley" that are the crowd-pleasers.

So, why not grab the kids (or find some other excuse) and get your sparklejollytwinklejingley on this December?

(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Originally published on

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