Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Elf the Musical
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Trip to Bountiful and Silent Sky

Tyler Pirrung, Madison Cichon, and Cast
Photo by Nate Bertone
The 2003 film Elf, which starred Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who was raised by Santa's elves, was a huge success at the box office and has become a Christmas comedy film classic. While the musical adaptation of the film wasn't as big a hit on Broadway as the movie was at the box office, it has become a holiday staple at regional theatres across the country. Arizona Broadway Theatre presents a crowd-pleasing and colorful family-friendly production of this witty and charming musical with a talented cast, including a superb, comical performance by Tyler Pirrung as Buddy.

The musical keeps most of the film plot while eliminating some of the unnecessary supporting movie characters and also adding in some fun contemporary references and even a couple of jokes that only the adults in the audience will get. The plot focuses on the story of Buddy the elf, who, when he was a baby, crawled into Santa's sack of toys one Christmas and was accidentally taken by Santa back to the North Pole. Since his single mother died and he was an orphan, Buddy was raised by the elves, which made him think he was also an elf. However, when Buddy learns many years later that he's human and that his father, who didn't even known he was born, is still alive, he sets off to New York City in search of his real family.

Tony winners Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin crafted a funny and charming script that has enough new material to give those who know the film by heart a fresh experience. The score, with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, has a few toe-tapping tunes, several upbeat ensemble numbers, and some melodies that will be stuck in your head for days. There are also several songs that are only serviceable and forgettable.

Michael Whitney's direction keeps the pace brisk, and his talented cast excel in ensuring the comedy is appropriately wacky while not shortchanging the warmth of the story. Kurtis Overby's choreography is fun, fast paced, and well danced by the cast. Together, Whitney and Overby build many of the ensemble numbers into big and bright crowd-pleasing moments. Nate Berton's smart and beautiful scenic design is enriched with giant snowflakes, stunning blue backgrounds, and rich, holiday colors that pop. Joshua Condon's music direction and the superb orchestra exceptionally deliver gorgeous sounds of the bright, jazz-infused score.

Tyler Pirrung is quite endearing as the lovable Buddy. He makes Buddy silly and childlike, as someone who gets entirely excitable at the smallest things. The sense of innocence Pirrung brings to the part makes him completely believable as this man-child who was raised at the simple, playful North Pole but finds himself a fish out of water when he ends up in loud and wild New York City. Pirrung's singing voice is strong and clear and soars on his many solos. Pirrung is delivering an exceptional and winning comic performance.

As Buddy's father Walter, who we find out is on Santa's "naughty list," Bill Saunders paints a realistic picture of a man who puts his career before his family and doesn't quite know what to make of Buddy when he shows up on his doorstep. Madison Cichon delivers a natural and realistic portrayal of the skeptical, edgy Jovie, whom Buddy falls for after meeting her at Macy's Santaland. Cichon's cynical line delivery is spot on, but we also see from her pained expressions how Jovie can get hurt when Buddy's tales and escapades make her start to doubt his crazy stories and excuses. Like Pirrung, Cichon's singing voice is exceptional.

In supporting roles, Carolyn McPhee and Tristan Klaphake are both good, warm and charming as Buddy's helpful stepmother and his sympathetic younger half-brother. Rob Watson is excellent as the fun-loving Santa and the mean Mr. Greenway.

Elf the Musical is a fast-paced, quirky and whimsical musical that also has an important and optimistic message about the importance of family. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production features a winning performance by Tyler Pirrung, a gifted cast who excel, bright direction, and colorful creative aspects that beautifully blend the show's fun-loving comedy with charm, poignancy and pathos, adding up to a winning, family-friendly, musical comedy treat.

Elf the Musical runs through December 29, 2019, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, visit or call 623-776-8400.

Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin
Music by Matthew Sklar
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Based on the film written by David Berenbaum
Direction: Michael Whitney
Choreography: Kurtis Overby
Music Direction: Joshua Condon
Scenic Design: Nate Berton
Sound Design: Stacee A. Martinez
Lighting Design: Jaron Kent Hermansen
Original Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Costume Coordinator: Lottie Dixon
Wig Design: Amanda Gran
Technical Direction: Bryan Rosen
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Buddy: Tyler Pirrung
Walter Hobbs: Bill Saunders
Emily Hobbs: Carolyn McPhee
Jovie: Madison Cichon
Mr. Greenway / Santa: Rob Watson
Michael Hobbs: Tristan Klaphake
Deb: Hannah Clarke Levine
Matthews: Jeff Tierney
Store Manager: Justin Emmanuel Parker
Charlotte Dennon: Christie Dabreau
Ensemble: Blair Beasley, Halley Daigle, Danny Durr, Alyssa Ishihara, Scotty Jacobson, Delaney Spanko, Caleb Summers, Erika Wasko, Brody Wurr

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