Magical ‘Elf’ at Civic

By John Lyle Belden

A new Christmas classic was created in 2003 with the film “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell, which has since become an even bigger spectacle as a Broadway musical, now presented by the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre.

The book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, with songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, allows Buddy the Elf to escape the shadow of Ferrell’s unique talent to make him his own wonderful character — portrayed happily here by Matt Bays. 

As in the original story, Buddy is a human who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s sleigh, unseen until the end of the journey. Finding that the boy’s single mother had died, Santa Claus (Parrish Williams) let him be raised by the elves, They let Buddy think he was one of them, even when he grew much taller than his adopted family. 

The truth is inevitably revealed, and Buddy travels to his father — who doesn’t know he exists — in New York City. The dad, Walter (J. Stuart Mill), is a workaholic executive at a publisher of children’s books who is rough on coworkers like good-natured Deb (Mary Margaret Montgomery) and neglectful of wife Emily (Carrie Neal) and son Michael (Ben Boyce). Naturally, Walter doesn’t believe this strange man in elvish tights is his son, so has him sent away. Since Buddy claims to be from the North Pole, he is dropped off at the next-best thing — Macy’s. There he ends up among the store’s Santa’s helpers, where he falls in love with fellow “elf” Jovie (Emily Schaab). 

From there, the story is Buddy’s struggle for acceptance and belonging, along with a chance to save Christmas for his father’s family — and the whole world, when Santa is stranded in Central Park, his sleigh too low on the Christmas Spirit that fuels it. Other notable roles include Jonathan Studdard as the stressed-out Macy’s Manager, and Jeff Angel as Mr. Greenway, owner of the publishing company, who wants a new hit Christmas story from Walter — or else!

The feel of the show throughout is best described by one of its song titles: “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.” The mood is perpetually sweet, even when characters aren’t “Happy All The Time.” And even when they feel that “Nobody Cares,” there’s a fun dance break. 

Directed by Michael J. Lasley with perfect choreography by Anne Beck and musical direction by Brent Marty, this is a magical ensemble effort. And seeing it on a matinee with the audience mostly children, I noticed they were all entranced and swept up in the spirit of it all. 

Just as sweet and special as spaghetti with syrup, “Elf” is yet another holiday must-see in central Indiana, playing through Dec. 28 at the Tarkington theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel, right next to the Christkindlmarkt. (Arrive early for hope of parking.) See www.civictheatre.org or thecenterpresents.org for info and tickets.

 

IndyFringe: YAS, Twain

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

Zach & Zack have returned to the Fringe with their latest historical farce. This look into the life and times of Mark (or maybe Shania) Twain enacted by a diverse cast gives you an unusual insight into highlights and lowlights of Twain’s story.

From the beginning of the show, when each cast member comes out dressed as Twain (complete with overstated mustaches) arguing about the exact wording of one of his quotes, you know this will not be a typical offering. Then Mary Margaret Montgomery bursts in late and begins to start her presentation on Shania Twain (she wasn’t listening at rehearsals).

The narrative begins in earnest once they unfurl the blue fabric representing the Mississippi River. The part of Twain is never played by a single actor but each member of the troupe embodies a different element of his story.

Twain’s younger years and the origin of his pen name (he was born Samuel Clemens) are touched upon as well as his and his brother’s ill-fated trip to Nevada. They were too late for the Gold Rush, but this period brought about the inspiration for his first story which launched him to a decent amount of fame.

We touch on several of the people and stories that influenced him throughout the years, including his tempestuous courtship and marriage with his future wife Olivia, portrayed brilliantly by Tiffany Gilliam.

Everyone is then treated to the delightful interlude that is, “Matt and Evan Explain the Novels”. This wacky bit highlights Matthew Altman and Evan Wallace’s comedy chops as well as giving a brief overview of the various novels Twain wrote.

Christian Condra’s turns as Twain’s brother, Orion, and the Fallen angel, Satan, highlight his spectacular range as an actor. Shawnte Gaston is slips from character to character so effortlessly that one could easily overlook the intense skill needed to embrace the magnitude of her talent. Montgomery’s spunk and determination to promote her own Twain story offers much-needed comic relief in a tale that takes many darker turns than one would expect.

If audiences flock to this (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 21 & 24-25, at the District Theater) as vigorously as they did with past Zach & Zack shows, buy your tickets immediately as future performances are already close to selling out.