OREM — Santa Claus is coming to the SCERA! For five nights per week Utah audiences can see him on stage in The Happy Elf through December 17.
In The Happy Elf, Eubie, the titular elf gets into trouble at Santa’s workshop during the Christmas season and is transferred to the “Naughty and Nice Department.” While enduring the drudgery of his new job, he discovers a town named Bluesville that has only naughty residents. Eubie then decides that he can return to Santa’s good graces, and even ride in the sleigh on Christmas Eve, if he helps at least one naughty resident Bluesville resident become nice.
The Happy Elf is not a complex show. Audience members who look for subplots or a literary script are going to be disappointed. Lauren Gunderson and Andrew Fishman’s script is humorous, though mostly aimed at children. (There’s even a song entitled “The Poop Hole Song.”) Yet, the production succeeds because it never struggles to entertain its young target audience. Robinne Booth kept the direction brisk, which made the show easily keep the attention of many children in the audience. Although the story is simple to follow, Booth treated the show seriously and avoided the tendency of some directors of children’s shows to have the actors talk like a wide-eyed kindergarten teacher over-enthusiastically reading a picture book. Rather, the show was directed like a traditional musical, and I think this makes the show enjoyable to parents without becoming too complex for children.
Another creative team member who treated The Happy Elf seriously was Chantelle Wells, the choreographer. Wells created smart dances for songs like “Two Scoops of Christmas” and “The Happy Elf” that matched Harry Connick, Jr.’s jazzy score. I also appreciated the almost militaristic movement of “The What Song,” which punctuated the show with a fun and memorable break from the dreariness of Bluesville.
As the lead actor in the show, Duncan Johnson played a sincere Eubie. His energy in the “snow board room” scene was enjoyable and made it believable that Eubie would have conflicts with his supervisor. Madelyn Brannelly was sweet in the role of Gilda, and her character’s affection for Eubie was apparent in several scenes.
Another standout performer was Laura Randall as Molly, the Bluesville child that Eubie tries to make nice. Despite her young age, Randall’s voice was one of the strongest in the cast, and her rendition of “Two Scoops of Christmas” was a major highlight of the first act. The only noticeable weak link in the cast was Jake Hart as Hamm, Eubie’s elf friend. I found Hart’s performance much less energetic than Brannelly’s and Johnson’s work, and he lacked the warm friendship with Eubie that the script called for.
Like the director and choreographer’s decision to take the show seriously, the set designer (Shawn M. Mortensen) and costumer (Deborah Bowman) produced quality work. Bowman’s costumes were brightly colored for the North Pole elves and drab and blue for Bluesville, creating a contrast between the two locations (and their denizens) that is obvious. Mortensen’s sets were whimsical and beautifully painted, and both the North Pole and Bluesville sets would fit in with many children’s books.
The Happy Elf has a lot going for it: an invested creative team, a talented cast, a lean script, and not being A Christmas Carol. I recommend the production for children ages 6 to 10, though their parents will likely find the play pleasant. And with the chance to meet Santa afterwards, this “Santariffic” play is a nice choice for families looking for a unique Christmas evening.