A candid critique of festive delight with Elf! The Musical

Diving deep into Elf! the Musical: A merry tale of Christmas, family, and laughter

Anya Ryan, 5th December 2023

Christmas is here, and so is the return of Elf! The Musical. First premiering in the West End in 2015, it became the Dominion Theatre’s fastest-selling show. And taking its inspiration from the 2003 Christmas movie, starring Will Ferrell, there is no surprise why fans flocked to take their seats. Elf! is a festive favourite, after all.

Of course, you know the story already. The adult-sized elf Buddy realises he’s actually a human, so off he goes from the North Pole to New York to find his father, Walter, a publisher of children’s story books. It’s a tale of family reconnection and enlightenment, but on the way, he also falls in love, meets his half-brother and smothers his food in syrup. The show sticks closely to its cinematic source material, and is decorated top to toe in candy canes, snow and Santa’s grottos – but there’s a corporate hollowness to it all.

The humour never reaches the same heights as it does in the film. But, Philip Wm McKinley’s twinkly production is packed full of merriment. With a set designed by Tim Goodchild, colour pops in every scene. The towering Empire State Building stands at the stage’s centre, while CGI creates the illusion of a glistening fairy-lit night sky. The songs – composed by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin are less memorable but are still decorated with jingle bells and big, loud, choruses. The duet between Walter’s wife, Emily and their son Michael edges on becoming too sentimental, but they are so likeable, that you can’t help but want to bob along. The lyrics are surprisingly wry and sarcastic – earning laugh after laugh from the packed out audience each evening.

Elf! is very much Buddy’s story, and this year the honour of playing Christmas’ biggest lover falls to Matthew Wolfenden. Acted with wide-eyed naivety, he is both necessarily irritating and adorable. His performance mirrors Will Ferrell’s in the film almost too exactly – we’re not seeing anything new here. But, he looks gleeful as can be embodying everyone’s favourite elf who has never grown up.

Opposite him is Elf’s version of Scrooge – Buddy’s father, played aptly by Tom Chambers. Suitably miserable and downbeat, part of the joy of the narrative is watching him discover the true meaning of Christmas. And so, if you’re looking for a seasonal family show, this is a safe bet. Sugary and striking, you’ll leave glowing with Christmas spirit, and of course, “singing loud for all to hear” - even before Santa eagerly awaits his appearance.