Review: ‘Elf The Musical JR.’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater

We all know a person (or two, or twelve) who still have their Christmas lights up as we head into February. If you’re not quite ready to let go of the Christmas glow, then Aldersgate Church Community Theater‘s production of Elf JR. is a perfect choice! Based on New Line Cinema’s hit film starring Will Ferrell, Elf JR  features songs by Tony Award nominees, Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, with a book by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin. Shelagh Roberts directs a team of young actors who present a night of entertainment for the whole family to enjoy together.

Music Director James Woods provides live accompaniment side-stage on his piano, which was a real treat. Merry and bright, his cheerful music really sets a festive tone– a fact not overseen by the audience, who gave him the loudest applause of all during curtain call. Master Electrician and Sound Designer Marg Soroos makes sure that the actors are still heard over the live music, with only a couple muffled casualties along the way (stretch those lung muscles, kids!).

Lighting Designers Jeff Auerbach and Kimberly Crago use spotlight effects to bring focus to the stage, and Costume Designers Anna Carlos and Rachel Meadows choose lots of vibrant colors for the elves’ homemade outfits.

Cast members of ‘Elf The Musical JR.’ Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.

With such a large cast (over 35 characters plus an ensemble), multiple scene changes, and group song-and-dance numbers to think of, Scenic Designer Kelly Hayden needs to keep the stage roomy. Constructors TJ Downing, Kyle Roberts, and Dennis Roddy built a number of set pieces that can easily be wheeled on and offstage, including office furniture and Santa’s sleigh. Set Painters Michelle Black and Meg Jewett create a simple but lovely backdrop of NYC’s cityscape, and when Rockefeller’s larger-than-life Christmas tree unfolds in the middle of it, there isn’t one sullen face in the room.

With the production and technical crew providing a solid backbone for the young cast, the kids are free to explore their potential. A story driven mainly by character development (really, who can forget Will Ferrell’s performance?)

Grant Hamilton does a great job with the demanding role of Buddy, a man who grew up in the magical North Pole after stowing away in Santa’s bag as an orphaned infant. Easily excitable and desperately naive, Buddy’s innocent, fun-loving character is in for the culture-shock of a lifetime when he heads to New York City to meet his biological father. Needless to say, Buddy’s ecstatic nature leaves him sticking out like a sore thumb in the big city (and the elf outfit doesn’t help, either). Hilarity ensues when Buddy’s bubbly personality clashes with the cynical world around him, landing him in outrageous situations  and memorable encounters (I especially enjoyed his confrontation with Macy’s surly Manager, played by Stephen Porter). After learning that his real father is (gasp!) on Santa’s naughty list, Buddy must find a way to bring Christmas cheer back into his new family’s lives…and maybe, if he can swing it, to the entire city.

Cast members of ‘Elf the Musical JR.’ Photo courtesy of Aldersgate Church Community Theater.

Clever lyrics and dialogue are also a strong anchor in this show. Choreographer Michele Koros uses tried-and-true dance moves for the large ensemble, including a festive kick-line and twirling batons in the cheerful number “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.” In the number “Happy All the Time,” an overworked Santa (Jayson Altieri) is fed up with the saccharine nature of the elves who surround him, and encourages Buddy (perhaps the happiest of all of them) to seek out his father, who never knew Buddy was born. Buddy sings about his expectations in “World’s Greatest Dad,” only to find that his father Walter Hobbs (Michael Kerns) is a stiff workaholic, and is guilty of neglecting the family he already has (Emily Roddy as Mrs. Hobbs and Joel Simpson as her sassy young son, Michael). Starved for attention from Walter, their duet  “I’ll Believe in You” is one of the more emotional numbers of the show.  Buddy is also faced with another challenge in the form of Jovie (Olivia Parker), a beautiful but distrustful girl whom he falls head over feet for. Can Buddy bring back the true meaning of Christmas, or is this new world he found already too far gone?

The kids work very well together, and the fun that they are having onstage is contagious. If you’re yearning for one more evening of Christmas cheer, Aldersgate Church Community Theater‘s production of Elf JR. has your ticket!

Running Time: 90, including one 15-minute intermission.

Elf JR. plays through January 22, 2017, at Aldersgate Church Community Theater– 1301 Collingwood Road, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.


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